The below-inflation offer comes at the start of negotiations between the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association and the five trade unions involved in higher education over a 2013-14 pay deal.
Talks, which began on 23 April, will continue throughout April and May.
However, the opening offer from universities was immediately branded “disappointing” by the University and College Union, which represents academic staff and senior administrators.
“As an opening gambit, this is very disappointing from the employers and represents a fourth year of pay cuts,” said Michael MacNeil, UCU head of higher education.
“Staff costs fell again in 2012 and institutions’ reserves are strong,” he added.
“As inflation continues to rise and vice-chancellors continue to enjoy inflation-busting pay rises the employers need to come back with a serious offer.”
Unions have asked for a percentage increase of at least the Retail Price Index (3.2 per cent in February) plus an additional unspecified percentage to cover previous below-inflation rises. They have also called for improvements to the salaries of lower-paid staff to match the Living Wage and an increase in London weighting.
A similar inflation plus “catch-up pay” claim last year for 2012-13 was initially met with a 0.5 per cent pay offer, with unions eventually settling for 1 per cent after a ballot of members failed to support full strike action.
This year, employers said they could only afford a 0.5 per cent pay increase because higher education institutions face a challenging and uncertain funding environment.
The issue of London weighting should be determined by individual institutions, while many universities already paid higher than the Living Wage once sickness, holiday and pension benefits were included, Ucea said.
Paul Curran, vice-chancellor of City University and chairman of Ucea: “At this early stage of the negotiations both sides are exploring the pay and pay-related elements of the claim in more detail but this is being done within the context of the wide-ranging and on-going financial pressures and uncertainty across the sector.
“The employers valued today’s constructive discussions.”