UK university staff have been offered a pay rise worth 1.3 per cent for the next academic year.
At the start of pay negotiations for 2019-20, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea), which represents 145 higher education institutions, made an opening offer of 1.3 per cent across all elements of the pay claim.
The employers’ body said that it would also discuss proposals for greater uplifts for lower paid staff put forward by the five unions involved in the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff, which met for the first time on 26 March.
However, the overall amount available for pay rises will be constrained to an amount equal to 1.3 per cent, meaning the 1.3 per cent pay rise may not apply to all points of the pay spine if lower-paid staff received greater uplifts.
The pay offer – which is lower than last year’s 1.7 per cent opening offer – was made in light of what Ucea called “unprecedented financial challenges including very large increases in employers’ pension contributions”. Uncertainty caused by Brexit and a possible tuition fee cut after the post-18 education review are also cited in its pay offer statement.
Unions are calling for the pay rise of inflation, as measured by the Retail Price Index, plus 3 per cent, which would currently be about 6.1 per cent, or a minimum increase of £3,349 (whichever is greater). They also want a £10 minimum wage for any directly employed staff and steps to tackle excessive workloads and academic precarity.
The unions, which include the University and College Union, Unite and Unison, say that the offer is affordable because staff costs have fallen to 53.9 per cent of the sector’s income, while capital investment and institutional reserves have continued to rise.
In its statement, the unions said that it “is vital at this point in time that universities invest in their single most important asset, their staff”.
It added that the “continued erosion of the value of take-home pay in recent years is felt across all grades of staff in higher education covered by the national pay spine and needs, urgently, to be addressed”.
The offer, however, is likely to revive calls for strike action over pay. Last year’s final pay offer of 2 per cent prompted UCU to call for industrial action, after a resolution by its higher education committee.
However, two ballots for strike action failed to reach the 50 per cent turnout threshold required by law, meaning industrial action could not take place, despite about 70 per cent of voters backing a walkout.
Two further meetings of the JNC are due to take place on 11 April and 30 April.