Universities

Union calls on universities to use £3.4bn surplus to raise staff wages or face strikes | The universities

Universities should use their £3.4billion surplus to give staff a pay rise to help offset the cost-of-living crisis – or face the prospect of strikes in the autumn, warned the University and College Union.

Analysis of university financial data by the union revealed that universities have earmarked £4.6bn to be spent on new buildings next year, an increase of more than a third on the last year, despite giving some staff a 3% below-inflation pay raise.

The union is demanding an RPI (which amounts to 12.3%) plus a 2% salary increase. His calculations estimated that a one-year surplus from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the wealthiest institutions in the UK, could fund a pay rise of 7.9% for all university staff.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The university sector is not only hoarding billions of pounds in cash, but also planning a tantalizing spending spree on shiny new vanity projects – while maintaining the salaries of the personnel, cutting pensions and plunging thousands of struggling people into a cost of living crisis. It is inconceivable and insulting.

She argued that the university sector generates its income through the work of its staff in teaching, research and administration and should “reassess its priorities”.

“Investment in staff is investment in students, and vice-chancellors need to realize that fact,” she said.

The union said 145 universities will be voted for strikes over pensions, wages and working conditions in early September. As the ballots are aggregated nationally, if more than half of the universities are in favor when they close in early October, each institution will go on strike later in the fall, which the union says would represent “an unprecedented level of disruption”.

Universities say they need to hold on to surpluses to weather tough financial climate ahead, and strong overall performance masks variations between institutions

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the University and College Employers Association, said: “Each institution has a legal obligation to balance its books and the nationally negotiated salary increase must be affordable for all 145 institutions. Many higher education institutions are working hard to avoid layoffs, and others are struggling to balance budgets to maintain staffing levels, while delivering this year’s salary increase into the pockets of staff.

He argued that it was dishonest to cite buildings as an area where universities could find savings because it “represents less than 10% of total expenditure and has suffered significant cuts during the pandemic, in order to devote resources to the support of staff and students”.

He noted that although the current salary offer proposes a minimum increase of 3% for all staff, it provides for a 9% increase for the lowest paid staff, who are most affected by inflation. .

Union research suggests universities generated record levels of revenue from tuition fees and other sources, reaching £41.1bn in 2020-21, up from £39.6bn in 2019 -20.

During this period, staff costs increased by £200m, which the union said was not enough to meet the additional demand for teaching and support resulting from increased enrollment students, which means that existing staff members have to work harder.

The union said staff had received low-wage rewards over the past decade, which has lagged inflation by 25%, and estimates that around 90,000 university staff are employed on short-term and precarious contracts.

The union argued that some universities were wasting money on expensive overseas campuses. In February, it was revealed that just 100 students had graduated from a New York campus of Glasgow Caledonian University since it opened in 2014, despite securing £21.4million in loans to maintain the open campus.

The university said the college began recruiting students in 2017 and achieved degree accreditation in March, which a spokesperson said would lead to “an increase in the number of students recruited and graduated in the months and years years to come”.

In 2019, the University of Reading significantly reduced its presence in Malaysia after racking up losses of over £20m. The university said the campus is “now in a much stronger financial position” after the restructuring.

Meanwhile, some university bosses have called for tuition fees to be raised in line with inflation to avoid overreliance on foreign students.

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland and former permanent secretary to the Department for Education, told The Sunday Times: ‘You can’t expect to run universities with a fee level of £9,250 per year, which by 2025 will be worth around £6,000 in real terms due to inflation.

“If you want to continue running universities even at the level we have now, you have to increase tuition at some point.”

Overseas students currently pay £24,000 a year, while tuition fees of £9,250 would now be £12,000 a year had they kept pace with inflation.