UCU pushes universities to up pay offer after public sector rises

Sector leaders insist rises of up to 7 per cent announced by Rishi Sunak are ‘irrelevant’ to higher education dispute

July 13, 2023
Durham, UK - 13th July 2019 135th Durham Miner's Gala aka Big Meeting.
Source: iStock

Unions and employers clashed afresh on higher education sector pay after the Westminster government announced pay rises of up to 7 per cent for millions of public sector workers.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the fact that prime minister Rishi Sunak had accepted the recommendations of independent pay review bodies meant that vice-chancellors’ insistence that they could not afford to go further on remuneration was “untenable”.

But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) said that the public sector pay awards were in line with the higher education rise for 2023-24 of between 5 per cent and 8 per cent, and that institutions faced mounting financial pressures.

The two sides are due to meet on 14 July in a bid to find a way out of the sector pay dispute, which has been the focus of repeated rounds of strike action and, since 20 April, a marking and assessment boycott that has led to academics having thousands of pounds deducted from their salaries.

Under the terms of the public sector awards, pay for police and prison officers will rise by 7 per cent, teachers by 6.5 per cent, consultants and junior doctors by 6 per cent and the armed forces by 5 per cent. All four teaching unions said they would urge their members to accept the rise, which would end months of strike action in schools.

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive, insisted that universities’ offer was “comparable to settlements in the wider economy, including the public sector workers’ pay rises”, but the UCU would highlight that many of its members will only get 5 per cent.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said Ucea “needs to make us an improved offer”.

“After unprecedented industrial unrest, Rishi Sunak has today been forced to honour pay review body recommendations. This makes Ucea’s position on pay untenable; when it meets with us tomorrow, it needs to get realistic,” Dr Grady said.

“Universities have billions in reserves and can afford to pay staff properly; instead, vice-chancellors are choosing to make students and staff suffer.

“Ucea’s refusal to settle this dispute means staff are getting their pay docked, international students are losing visas, and thousands upon thousands of students cannot graduate.”

Mr Jethwa claimed that the public sector pay award was “irrelevant” to the higher education dispute.

“It doesn’t mean that collectively the sector can suddenly afford more for the 2023-24 pay uplift,” he said. “The financial state of…institutions has not improved since we brought forward the pay round to help staff with cost-of-living pressures.”

Mr Jethwa highlighted that many universities now faced “steep” increases in contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

But he said the 14 July talks “provide a potential opportunity to find a resolution”, and added that he “welcomes the willingness of the unions to discuss Ucea’s proposal for an independent review of sector affordability”.

The row comes just days after Queen’s University Belfast had its membership of Ucea revoked for three years “in the first instance” for striking a local deal on a pay rise to end the marking boycott.


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Reader's comments (5)

The public sector pay award is only irrelevant to Raj Jethwa as he continues to bury his head in the sand. Why would the majority of HE staff accept a 5% award lower than all public sector rises and significantly lower than inflation ? The public sector award will only galvanize staff to fight harder to get what is fair. Let us hope today's negotiations are productive else QUB's bold actions will just be the start.
What I don't understand is why all of those on Grade 5 are getting 6%, except for those on the top spinal point. Why are SP 26 only getting 5% when there is no increase in benefits until FA 6 SP 27? Where was the logic in making the gap between SP 25 and SP 26 smaller than any other SP?
I thought the UCU had moved away from focusing on aggregate 'reserves' to 'surpluses' given the leadership does not understand what a reserve in relation to the financial position of universities? Given the marketisation of HE, a single pay increase for the whole sector seems to be constrained by the tail of relativity weaker institutions. The whole system is creaking under multiple pressures. No envious of Sir Keir inheriting this mess. The strategic importance of the HE sector should be at the forefront of any future Labour government in my opinion.
'Mr Jethwa claimed that the public sector pay award was “irrelevant” to the higher education dispute.' I started working in higher education because I thought it was in the public sector. Who decided to privatise universities and when will we get to vote on this?
Daniel: Tony Blair.