The University and Colleges Employers’ Association said the offer for 2015-16 was above inflation – the consumer price index is currently flat at 0 per cent – and was being made “against a backdrop of unprecedented uncertainties and challenging circumstances” for higher education institutions.
But the offer, which was announced after a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff on 24 April, is below the 1 per cent offer that triggered strikes and the threat of a marking boycott last year. Industrial action was eventually called off after an offer of 2 per cent was accepted by staff.
The joint pay claim submitted by the five main sector trade unions called for salaries to “at least be increased” by the level of the retail price index measure of inflation, which stood at 0.9 per cent last month but, according to the unions, is forecast to rise.
The unions say that salaries have dropped by about 15 per cent in real terms over the past five years when inflation is taken into account, even with this year’s 2 per cent rise.
Ucea said that pay progression increments, which around half all employees will be eligible to receive, would take the average pay increase in 2015-16 to 2.4 per cent and that many would receive more than this.
The organisation said that the offer sought to “address all the elements” of the unions’ pay claim. Work to explore the gender pay gap and the conditions of casual staff’s employment is continuing, Ucea added.
Paul Curran, the chair of Ucea and the vice-chancellor of City University London, said the JNCHES meeting had been “constructive”.
“We believe the HE institutions and trade unions wish to arrive at a settlement that is both fair for staff and sustainable for their institutions. The employers have made a substantial pay uplift offer of 0.9 per cent on all pay points alongside further movements to address concerns around the lower paid,” Professor Curran said.
“This offer is against a backdrop of unprecedented uncertainties and challenging circumstances for HE institutions and the sector as a whole. We look to trade union colleagues to consider carefully the real value of the offer being made.”
But Michael MacNeil, national head of bargaining and negotiations at the University and College Union, described the offer as “disappointing”.
“Staff working in higher education want a fair offer which keeps up with the cost of living and addresses the loss in value of members’ pay over recent years,” he said.
“We are disappointed that the employers are trying to link incremental progression with these pay negotiations, but are failing to address many of the issues set out in our equality claim. Ucea needs to review its position ahead of the final meeting.”
The final negotiating meeting is due to be held on 12 May.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s universities have confirmed that they will pay all of their staff the living wage.
All employees covered by collective pay agreements at the country’s 19 higher education institutions will be paid at least £7.85 an hour “for the foreseeable future”, a Universities Scotland spokeswoman said.
“The intention of every institution in the sector to pay the living wage for the foreseeable future is sincerely meant but it as far as the sector is able to commit at present given the unpredictable nature of annual increases in the living wage and uncertainty in higher education funding,” the spokeswoman said.