In the news: 8 September 2017

Vice-chancellors' summer in the spotlight leads to ministerial threats over pay

After a summer with their pay and perks in the spotlight, vice-chancellors finally found out what ministers plan to do to try and curb excessive pay on Thursday when Jo Johnson spoke at the Universities UK conference. He told them their pay was too high and any university paying their vice-chancellor more than £150,000 a year would have to justify why they were paid so much.

If that had been the case last year then only five out of the 161 university leaders surveyed by UCU would have escaped the new level of scrutiny. In typically British fashion, Johnson was given a warm round of applause by the people he had just accused of being overpaid.

On the eve of the speech, UCU took a look back at some recent issues surrounding senior pay in universities. In coverage ahead of the speech, the Guardian noted that UCU had welcomed the pledge to include leadership pay and accountability in a consultation on the new higher education regulation framework later this year, as part of its efforts to improve transparency of senor pay.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the Independent that, while soaring vice-chancellor pay had become a real embarrassment for the higher education sector, Jo Johnson was the latest in a long line of ministers to have seen calls for pay restraint ignored.

She told the BBC and Financial Times that vice-chancellors had to stop hiding behind shadowy remuneration committees, pointing out that over two-thirds of vice-chancellors sit on their own remuneration committees, and three-quarters of universities refuse to publish full minutes of the meetings where leadership pay is decided.

Speaking on BBC 5Live (from 1:45:25 in) yesterday morning after the speech, Sally said that vice-chancellors who had accepted huge pay rises while keeping university staff pay down had shown a real failure of leadership. While she admitted to Sky News that she didn't usually agree with Jo Johnson or Tory ministers on much, but she did welcome efforts to increase transparency of senior pay.

 

Oxford vice-chancellor offers nightmare defence of her pay

Jo Johnson's speech came just a couple of days after the latest ill-fated attempt at senior pay justification from a vice-chancellor. Despite just having been named as leader of the best university in the world once more, Louise Richardson appeared to get freedom of speech and equality legislation mixed up.

She then went on to say that she wasn't that well paid when set against popular professionals footballers and bankers. That bizarre analogy led to an appearance in the Guardian's pass notes and prompted a series of letters, hostile headlines and opinion pieces.

 

UCU says time for VCs to stop talking about themselves and sort out staff pay and conditions

The bit of the Richardson's speech that stood out for Sally Hunt was her admission that, while she did not feel she was overpaid, she did concede that her staff were not paid enough. Richardson said: "My own salary is £350,000. That's a very high salary compared to our academics who I think are, junior academics especially, very lowly paid."

Writing for Times Higher Education today Sally said that the low pay issue is something many VCs have said in private, but it is positive to see such a senior academic leader at last acknowledging that the undoubted success of UK universities has been built on the backs of the staff whose pay has fallen in real terms by 15% since 2010.  

She says it is unlikely that many of the 150,000 casualised staff who work in universities will shed tears for those VCs who find the scrutiny of their pay and perks distasteful. As the future of our profession the sector must treat them better. She says UCU is going to take an historic step in how it supports that next generation of struggling young academics.

From 1 October UCU will be offering free membership to the thousands of PhD students who also teach in our universities, and to those who are part of the teaching team without a teacher's contract in our colleges. There is no catch - free means free - for four years or until they get a better job.

 

College staff suffer 24% pay cut as UCU writes to colleges demanding better pay deal

Staff in further education colleges in England and Wales have seen their pay drop by 24 per cent in real-terms since 2009, reports the TES today. While the cost of living has increased by 27.6 per cent since 2009, pay has gone up by only 4 per cent.

The figures come as the union writes to all colleges urging them to instruct their negotiators to make an acceptable pay offer at talks later this month. The union met with the colleges' representatives - the Association of Colleges (AoC) - to discuss its pay claim before the summer, but the AoC said it was not in a position to make a pay offer.

In today's letter the union warns that it is currently consulting members on their willingness to take industrial action should the AoC's pay offer be unacceptable. UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'Things cannot continue as they are and I have written to colleges to ask them to give their negotiators a clear mandate for better pay at the pay talks later this month.'

 

Government accused of "wishful thinking" over Brexit position on science

The BBC reported this week that ministers will aim to negotiate a special status for the UK's membership of the European Union's science funding bodies post-Brexit. A paper released on Wednesday said the government wanted a "more ambitious agreement" on research collaboration than other non-EU countries.

However, Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities, told Times Higher Education that the government's paper was "wishful thinking" and included goals "impossible under current European Union law". He also said that it ignored the fact that immigration policy will be "absolutely decisive" for British research.

Responding to the government's plans for science post-Brexit, UCU said: 'Setting a clear objective to remain part of the EU framework programmes for science is a welcome, if belated, development from the government. UK universities are hugely successful partners in European research and ensuring that our institutions are well-placed for future collaboration with EU institutions is vital.' 

Last updated: 8 September 2017