University staff have been offered a 1 per cent pay rise for the 2016-17 academic year.
The initial offer was made by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) at the first of its three scheduled meetings with trade unions over pay, which took place on 22 March.
A joint trade union claim had asked for a 5 per cent rise at all points on the 51-point national pay spine, saying that a real-terms pay increase is “clearly affordable” given the total surpluses of £1.85 billion posted by the sector in 2014-15.
However, according to Ucea, “a significant number of participating higher education institutions” have said that the proposed 1 per cent offer was already “at the limit of affordability without serious implications for job losses”.
Several universities would find the 1 per cent award “very challenging” given the “backdrop of significantly increasing costs and continuing uncertainty in the political, funding and policy environment”, it added.
About half of employees will also be able to gain a 3 per cent pay increase on average through progression-related pay, meaning that average pay rises would be 2.6 per cent, the employers group added.
Michael MacNeil, national head of bargaining and negotiations for the University and College Union (UCU), said that the 1 per cent opening offer “falls short of our expectations” and was below inflation, as measured by the retail price index, which takes into account owner-occupier housing costs. This now stands at 1.3 per cent, although it is predicted to rise by up to 2.8 per cent later this year, UCU said.
“We know that the current pay offer will not be acceptable to our members, and we hope to receive an improved offer at the next meeting,” he said.
The next meeting is due to take place on 28 April, followed by a final meeting on 19 May.
The UCU has also asked for a “substantial increase” in pay at the lower end of the salary scale to ensure that all staff are paid at least the UK Living Wage of £8.25 an hour or £9.40 a hour in London.
It is also asking for minimum rates of pay for external examiners, whose remuneration can vary massively between institutions, as well as action to close the gender pay gap and to tackle casualisation within higher education – two areas that have been subject to recent joint working between unions and employers.
Helen Fairfoul, chief executive of Ucea, said that 1 per cent was a “very good initial offer” given “the context of increasing costs, uncertainty and financial constraint in the sector”.
She cited the increasing costs associated with “pension contributions, national insurance rises and the apprenticeship levy” as pressures faced by universities.