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History of the current HE negotiating arrangements

24 October 2006

In 1997, Sir Ron Dearing chaired a National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, which recognised that many higher education staff were paid well below comparable public and private sector rates.

He concluded that the sector was being hindered by current pay and conditions bargaining arrangements.

One of his recommendations was the setting up of an independent review committee to look into the framework for pay and conditions negotiations.

The Independent Review of Higher Education, Pay and Conditions was subsequently established by the employer body, the University and Colleges Employers Association, with a government-appointed chair, Sir Michael Bett. The review first met in February 1998, and was made up of representatives of the staff trade unions, the employers and independent members. It finally reported in June 1999.

Our submissions were among over 200 from organisations and individuals with interests in higher education. The conclusions and recommendations made in Bett's report subsequently formed the basis for negotiations and discussion between ourselves, other trade unions, and the employers, on developing the pay negotiating structures.


Key recommendations from the committee included the retention of national pay arrangements, the establishment of a single national negotiating body to bring together the ten separate bargaining bodies that were currently in place and work toward promoting equality in pay arrangements.

The creation of a single negotiating body, Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES), was put into effect in 2001.

Single pay spine

Work through JNCHES resulted in a 'Framework Agreement' in 2004 and the introduction of a single pay spine. The national single pay spine, on which local grading arrangements will now be based, is negotiated by the academic sub-committee of JNCHES. UCU, as the largest UK union for academic and academic-related staff, is the majority union on this sub-committee.

'The Framework Agreement for the modernisation of pay structures' led to higher education salary arrangements undergoing major change and individual universities were required to implement new pay and grading arrangements mapped to a national single pay spine.

Many positive local agreements were successfully concluded by local negotiators working alongside our head office HE team and regional offices.

JNCHES review

The negotiating structures were revised in 2007. 'New JNCHES' brought with it single table bargaining which ended the distinct bargaining arrangements for academic and academic related staff.

JNCHES working groups

Following on from the unsatisfactory conclusion of the 2009-10 New JNCHES national claim negotiations, UCEA and the national trade union side agreed to establish three working groups that would potentially enable a greater degree of joint working to take place on key elements of the joint trade union claim; job security, equality issues and fair pay.

The following groups were set up and involved both UCEA/employer representatives and representatives from the HE trade unions:

  • Equality Working Group
  • Pay Framework and Data Research Working Group
  • Sustainability Issues Working Group

The UCU experience of participating in the groups varied. Of the reports emanating from the three working-groups, we have only endorsed that coming out of the Equality Working Group. The report can be downloaded here: Equality Working Group Overview Report, Jan 11 [2mb]

In relation to the Pay Framework and Data Research Working Group, the UCU view is that the group was unable to fulfil its terms of reference mandate, and we were unable to endorse its work. A report has therefore been published without the UCU badge.

In relation to the Sustainability Issues Working Group, the UCU position is that the group has disappointingly failed to achieve key aspects of its terms of reference, specifically in the context of workforce planning and organisational change and shared values. We are unable to support the HE financial health and sustainability report that has emerged from the group as it is incomplete and has, from a UCU perspective, problematic financial data representation. This document has not therefore been circulated under the New JNCHES badge.

An insiders guide to finance was also produced to aid negotiators from the employer and employees side. This is a useful tool, which we have therefore endorsed. The guide can be downloaded here: An Insider’s Guide to Finance and Accounting in Higher Education [1mb]

Last updated: 9 March 2021