New JNCHES returns for 2024-25

The first day of New JNCHES negotiations sets the mood for pay, conditions, and industrial relations this year

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Last Thursday, Jo Grady’s update letter noted work on a joint 2024-25 union pay claim, submitted ahead of the first New JNCHES meeting of the season on Monday 25 March.

We now have sight of that pay claim, with the first set of New JNCHES publications on UCEA’s site. Some 140 employers are participating – this is down from 144 last year, with the missing four being:

  • Queen’s University Belfast (excluded from the scheme last year)
  • Rose Bruford College
  • Royal College of Music
  • Writtle University College (now part of Anglia Ruskin University)

In essence, the top level asks are the same as in the 2023-24 pay round – RPI plus 2 per cent on all pay points with equivalent rises to weighting, and joint work on workload, contracts, pay spine reform and inequalities. With inflation now lower than last year (currently 4.5 per cent) and projected to fall further by the time an award is made (1.6 per cent according to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility projections, this looks at first glance like an easier path to agreement.

The Employers’ Statement details why it might not be – the additional financial pressures placed on providers from changes to Teachers’ Pension Scheme contributions, falling international student numbers, and frozen home tuition fees, all preclude significant movement on pay. If inflation moves as hoped, the basic claim may be achievable, but it depends on a lot of other moving parts.

What is missing from both the pay claim and the statement is reference to the independent review of provider finances. We faced industrial action last year because of what could politely be called a difference of opinion about how much money universities actually have – impolitely the bizarrely stubborn UCU view that you can tot up all the “reserves” figures from HESA Finance data and negotiate based on a sector wide position of “vast wealth”. The idea of the independent review was to put the negotiation on a level playing field and at least start in reality – it was agreed to but appears not to have been taken forward.

There looks to be an employer willingness to work on the pay-related issues, as last year – so a lot will depend on whether terms of reference can be agreed. A previous draft was rejected by union members last year and has been revised.

There are other union requests, the most important being that the full pay headline claim is RPI plus 2 per cent or a flat rate of at least £2,500, whichever is greater – plus a commitment to restore “lost pay” (though this is not defined other than in an introductory suggestion that members have lost “up to 30 per cent” of the value of their pay over the past decade.

On the cash alternative, for a likely RPI of 1.6 (plus the 2 per cent) every spine point would see a pay increase of under £2,500. To get to the magic figure we are looking at a 7 per cent pay rise at the national median salary level.

This is coupled with a new minimum pay rate of £15 an hour, and the deletion of spine points below the Foundation Living Wage (currently £12 for most of the UK – and £13.15 in London). The latter clause would knock out every spine point up to point 12, the former would mean points below 22 would be out of bounds. That is a big ask – and although there are comparatively few academic staff below grade 20 (and almost none below grade 10) these points are well used for other staff.

Last year, employers agreed to cease the use of spine point three – and larger rises in pay were awarded to staff below spine point 25. Employers are more likely to move on low pay and on non-pay elements, and if the baseline rise turns out to be 3.6 per cent that feels at least possible. But the wilder elements of this claim feel very unlikely indeed – with a weakened and depleted union unlikely to force the issue too far.

3 responses to “New JNCHES returns for 2024-25

  1. It looks like I’ll be leaving the sector soon because of the abysmal pay. I’ve seen my salary fall behind the private sector over the years and I’m not willing to take it anymore. I currently have a couple of job offers, one paying 15k more and one paying 10k more than I currently make -and they both have less responsibility than my current HE role (I work in the IT dept). Universities are going to lose an awful lot of experience and talent unfortunately (then spend 10x more on outsourcing as always)! Short-sightedness always seems to cost them more

    1. IT posts in the public / quasi-public sector (in which I include HE) are almost always significantly underpaid when compared to the private / commercial sector. However, you generally have better terms and conditions, better access to flexibel working etc – although generally less funding to implement new systems. I’ve worked in HE, NHS and local government over the years and recruiting IT staff has always been an issue wherever I’ve worked, it’s not an HE specific issue – in my experience HE salaries are generally higher for IT / non-academic roles when compared to other areas of the public sector.

  2. It’s puzzling that all the critical comments in this are directed at the UCU perspective. I get that the UCU has made a claim while the UCEA hasn’t yet made an offer, but it did set out its perspective at length, and the Wonk Corner article really does read as an apologia for the UCEA perspective.

    Maybe the deputy editor does think the UCU is nuts whereas the UCEA is sober and honest, but if so, perhaps he should get out a little more. There are at least some legitimate criticisms of the UCEA view. For example, it says nothing at all to recognize that UK universities, and especially the large elite ones, operate in a truly international labour market, at least for academics, and UK academic pay is far behind that of many competitors internationally. A colleague of mine just left a leading UK university where she was making 65k GBP for a major US university where she is making 190k US (close to 2.5 times as much). Another colleague left a few years ago for Canada, where pay was 1/3 higher, with far more research funding and a better pension. Such moves were not principally motivated by money but it certainly helped; people get sick of living in cramped flats and if they don’t have significant ties to the UK through family, it’s natural to want to leave. This is just one example of a significant problem with the UCEA myopia that the editor could have addressed.

    (Maybe the view is that universities can’t do anything about the pay they’re able to offer, so international comparisons are irrelevant, but that’s to just embrace the powerlessness of the UCEA to resist the gradual decline of leading UK universities. There is just no way they can continue to compete internationally at current pay levels, and a decline is inevitable — top universities must compete internationally for academic talent. Moreover, the editor could have at least criticized the relentless UCEA tendency to think the ‘sector’ is only local, that the only comparison that matters is within the UK, as is labour isn’t mobile.)

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