If other partners on the union side agree (and why would they not?), university employers will be facing a 13 per cent pay claim for academic and academic-related staff this year. Such an increase would be justified as a long overdue catching-up exercise, and a year when bankers and politicians are worrying more about recession than inflation should be a good time to do it.
Such a hike would, of course, have a double cost for universities: they will not only have to find more money for existing staff, they are going to need to hire extra people to staff new courses and teach additional students as expansion resumes.
Universities routinely build pay assumptions into their budget sums in anticipation of settlements later in the year. In many years they have got away with paying less than they budgeted for and, when they have not, the pre-1992 universities at least have sometimes managed to balance the books by taking holidays on employers' contributions to the universities superannuation scheme. In short, university staff have, one way or the other, paid much of the cost of higher education expansion in the past 15 years. It is time to end such exploitation, along with gender discrimination and excessive casualisation. The run-up to this summer's spending review is no bad time for a tough stand by unions and managers.