By the standards which our employers like to use university staff have achieved great things in the decade since the financial crisis. The sector’s income has increased by over £11 billion. Universities’ reserves have almost tripled. As we learnt only last week, more than 50% of young people now attend university.
We, the staff, have made those things possible. But over the same period the proportion of university spending on staff has dropped. The OECD has found that UK universities’ spending on staff as a proportion of income is 6 percentage points lower than the EU average. Our pay has repeatedly been cut relative to inflation, and our wages would need to increase substantially to return to the value they had at the time of the financial crisis. Even by employers’ own calculations, we have lost out to the tune of about 17% over the last decade.
Quite simply, our vice-chancellors no longer accept that we deserve to be rewarded for creating the world-class sector which they like to boast about.
What are we asking for?
Given how poorly we are being rewarded our claims in the current higher education pay dispute are modest. Every year UCU and other campus unions lodge a detailed claim to our employers covering job security, equality, workload, and pay. This year we are asking for:
- a pay increase of RPI plus 3% (a total of 5.6% as at August 2019) or a minimum of £3,349
- action to close the gender pay gap
- work on closing the ethnicity pay gap based on an intersectional analysis of inequalities relating to race, gender, and other protected characteristics
- adoption of the stress management standards (or equivalent) approach to workload management in universities.
Tackling casualisation, improving our job security
One of the most detailed parts of our claim concerns casualisation. We are asking employers to agree to a framework for ending precarious employment, including:
- a commitment to end zero-hours contracts
- moving hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts
- a UK-wide review of the use of hourly paid lecturers in post-92s
- an action plan to improve job security for researchers
- proper contracts and guaranteed hours for postgraduate teaching assistants.
This is not an opportunistic raid on universities’ bank accounts. We are just asking to be valued properly for our hard work. In many areas of this claim we are not demanding immediate action; we are simply demanding that employers get round the table with us and come up with a plan to start addressing some of the problems that make our lives and our work much harder than they need to be.
UCU has attended multiple negotiation meetings with employers over the past few months. They have offered us a pay ‘increase’ of 1.8%, which is well below the RPI index of inflation. On job security, equality, and workload they have essentially refused to negotiate.
Those of us who went on strike over USS last year will remember how effective our action was in getting an improved offer out of employers. The larger the mandate you give your union by voting in this strike ballot, the more likely it is that employers will make us an offer before any action has to happen. And don’t forget: if we do have to go on strike again, we are doing more than ever to support you through UCU’s fighting fund.
UCU general secretary