Despite UCEA’s prior protestations it is now abundantly clear the marking boycott is biting.
It is incredibly disappointing that our dispute has reached this stage, as the boycott is the most recent escalation in a multiyear campaign waged by our members to get a better deal.
So it is a bit rich for UCEA chief executive Raj Jethwa to use the pages of Wonkhe to claim this may all be down to a misunderstanding. Our member’s pay has fallen by 25 per cent in real terms over the past decade, universities keep 90,000 staff on insecure contracts, academics work an average of two extra days unpaid per week, and there are gaping equality pay gaps throughout the sector.
If employers acknowledged these issues then perhaps we could resolve our misunderstandings and the dispute.
Indeed, had Raj suggested a year ago, when we started our original ballot, that he would open up university accounts and negotiate openly about what the sector can afford, we may have been in a different place than we are today. However, coming now this looks like an attempt to kick our members’ pay demands into the long grass. We need a pay rise now.
The sector’s strong financial performance is there for everyone to see, generating more money than ever in the most recent year of data. A total income of £44.6bn, £3.5bn more than last year, the biggest year on year increase in at least five years. A sector wide surplus of £2.6bn, the highest it has been for at least four years. Cash and current investment holdings at £19.6bn, £1.3bn more than last year. Whereas staff expenditure is just 51 per cent of income, a record low.
It’s clear to us that every single institution involved in the dispute is able to pay staff more than the five per cent our members have rejected. Yet across the sector Russell Group, other pre-92 universities, and post-92 universities all spent less on staff as a proportion of income than the year before. Only 15 universities in the dispute are in deficit, and if affordability were the only issue we would expect to see employers biting our hands off to make commitments on workloads and job security; we await their calls with bated breath.
We accept that a fair pay settlement will have an impact on university balance sheets over the medium to long term and UCU is very happy to work with UCEA to put the sector on a more sustainable footing.
There is no iron law that forces some universities to hoover up students at the expense of others and we are in favour of a managed system of student distribution based on fairness and equality. Unfortunately, many of those who now bemoan the financial situation at the minority of small universities and use that as an argument to deny fair pay to all university staff are the very same actors who pushed for a winner takes all higher education system. But we are willing to lobby governments and opposition parties for a fairer distribution of students alongside UCEA if it is serious about sustained equitable growth for the sector.
A shared perspective on the sector’s resources requires employers to stop pushing a working model which leaves half of staff showing signs of probable depression, it requires employers to admit they have presided over a sector that is now unable to issue proper degrees, and it requires a pay offer that helps staff deal with the cost of living crisis.
If employers are willing to work with us on this basis then we will be very happy to reset our industrial relations.