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HE national negotiations 2020-21

The higher education unions' joint claim for 2020-21 [520kb] was submitted to UCEA, the employers' assocation, in March 2020. The Covid-19 crisis and lockdown during the following period meant negotiations did not start in line with the agreed timetable.

Claim headlines

The headline points in the national claim for 2020/21 [520kb] are:

  • an increase in all higher education salaries by the Retail Price Index plus 5% on all 49 points of the national pay spine; for all pay related allowances including London weighting, to have same uplift
  • the minimum hourly rate of pay for staff employed by universities to be £10.50 per hour1. This is to be applicable to staff at all HEIs whether the standard full-time weekly employment contract is 35 hours per week or above
  • addressing compression of the pay spine, with the aim of restoring the 3% differential between pay spinal column points over the next three years
  • for all universities to become Living Wage Foundation accredited employers ensuring that outsourced workers receive at least the Foundation Living Wage rate
  • for the standard weekly full-time contract of employment to be 35 hours per week at all higher education institutions
  • ending pay injustice - meaningful, agreed action to tackle the race, gender and disability pay gap; to take an intersectional approach to the ways in which intersectionality and protected characteristics impact on pay equality
  • meaningful, agreed action to address excessive workloads and unpaid work; action to address the impact that excessive workloads are having on workforce stress and mental ill-health
  • New JNCHES to establish working group/s to look at career development, progression issues and training opportunities in higher education
  • to establish the Scottish sub-committee of New JNCHES as set out under the New JNCHES agreement; to review and consider how the Scottish Fair Work Convention dimensions can best be applied at a UK level
  • agreeing a framework to eliminate precarious employment practises and casualised contracts, including zero hours contracts, from higher education
  • converting hourly paid staff onto fractional contracts; agreeing national guidance to end the outsourcing of support services in higher education and to bring staff into in-house employment.


Following concerted joint union side lobbying UCEA agreed to meet and start this year's negotiations on 7 July. At the meeting UCEA stressed their commitment and that of the employers they represent to New JNCHES and national UK bargaining and shared the list of those HEI's that havesigned up to New JNCHES for 2020-21.

In line with the position set out in the email from the UCEA CEO, UCEA commented on the continued uncertainty created by the pandemic and the modelling HEI's are doing for a range of financial scenarios in which jobs and other terms and conditions are at risk. What employers want is certainty on finances for 2020-21 and this means the positon on a pay freeze has not changed and will not change. UCEA did confirm they were prepared to discuss a range of other matters raised by the unions, they would participate in further JNCHES meetingsand an autumn meeting of JNCHES to review sector finances.

The was reported back to UCU's higher education committee (HEC). After debating UCEA's pay freeze proposal for 2020-21 it was unanimously rejected by the committee. HEC's view is that employers are acting precipitately and some are using the pandemic as cover for unnecessary and detrimental changes to members' terms and conditions without the full picture on student numbers being available to support these attacks. UCEA should wait until the autumn and then review the situation on pay in the light of the actual data on student numbers.

With regards to the equality and pay related elements of the claim, HEC expressed concern on the lack of a meaningful responses regarding a UK-level job security agreement, prioritising work on the impact of the pandemic for BAME and other disadvantaged groups, the detrimental treatment of precariously employed staff and the consequences of increasing workloads. HEC did agree to continue to meet UCEA alongside the other trade unions and negotiate on these matters.

Dates for future JNCHES meetings are under discussion and we will update in due course.

Branch officers are updated on the progress of the 2020-21 joint claim. UCU's head of higher education, Paul Bridge, said 'Branches will by now be aware of the lack of progress in the 2020/21 new JNCHES negotiations. By way of background, the joint trade unions submitted our claim in March before the lockdown, in expectation that negotiations would begin on 31 March and conclude before the end of April. However, since the submission of the claim and the unfolding impact of the pandemic, the employers' representatives at UCEA repeatedly stated they were not in a position to start this year's negotiating round as they did not have a mandate from employers. UCEA and the HE trade unions kept the situation under regular review. The joint trade unions position is that we should begin negotiations as soon as practically possible. This position has been regularly reported to the higher education committee.

'At the end of last week UCEA wrote to the JNCHES joint trade union side confirming the position of the employers in regards to the new JNCHES negotiating round for 2020/21.

'The joint trade unions have sent an initial response to UCEA.

'The position of UCEA and through them the HEIs they represent, regarding this year's new JNCHES negotiations is concerning and an unprecedented development. It raises many questions about the employers' willingness to engage in pay and related matters for this year and a commitment to new JNCHES negotiations beyond that. At a UK level UCU will continue to press the employers to engage in the negotiating process and provide sector leadership on this matter.

'The initial response from the joint trade unions seeks a range of commitments and guarantees and UCU will continue to work alongside the other HE unions on these matters.

'What is needed at the new JNCHES level is stability, a plan to get us through the pandemic and a commitment to meaningful joint working based on the existing agreements and structures that we have UK level. UCU will continue to defend UK level bargaining and the new JNCHES agreement and work with our sister unions who also share our position.

'Branches have an important role to play in putting pressure on their employers to confirm their support for the new JNCHES agreement and their commitment to UK level bargaining.

'We know that branches are responding magnificently to a wide range of issues that have emerged with the pandemic. UCU has produced a range of resources for branches, which can be found here.

'The financial impact on the sector and individual HEIs is acute but varied and the need for a joined up response is pressing. UCU has also our 'jobs first' campaign with targeted resources for branches designed to help you defend members' jobs whatever the challenges being faced at your institution; please read this guidance.'

Email from Raj Jethwa UCEA chief executive

I am writing to you as the Joint Union Side Secretaries. As you will be aware, UCEA has recently sought indicative views from its member institutions on the 2020-21 pay round. This consultation has confirmed the significant extent of the financial challenges facing our subscribing institutions. 

UCEA's members are fully aware of, and very grateful for, the efforts of staff across all higher education institutions who have helped the sector to cope with the unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic. However, the scale of the problem is such that many institutions face high levels of financial uncertainty, with the real potential for significant financial challenges in the 2020-21 year. While institutions will try their utmost to minimise the impact on jobs, for many this will be extremely difficult.

In order to plan effectively, institutions need to minimise the degree of uncertainty facing them. Given the sizable proportion of institution budgets dedicated to the workforce, our members have indicated that they require clarity on pay bill for 20-21 as soon as possible to help with their planning. If this is not resolved it will simply add further uncertainty. 

In view of the likely forthcoming pressures facing the sector, UCEA now believes it would be unwise for there to be a pay uplift for the 2020-21 round. We recognise that this will be disappointing for you and your members. I must stress that the conclusion that there should not be a pay uplift this year has not been arrived at lightly by our members. 

Given the shared interest between all of us concerned with the sector in achieving a sustainable future for it, our proposal is to seek your agreement to a pay freeze for 2020-21, with the exception of adjustments to those points on the spine necessary to meet statutory National Living Wage levels. 

The scale of the potentially difficult financial situation facing the sector means that institutions need this certainty as soon as possible, without necessarily going through the full negotiating process. Giving institutions this clarity as quickly as we can will better position them to make decisions which minimise the impact on jobs. However, in doing so, we would emphasise UCEA's ongoing commitment to national collective bargaining and our intention to recommence negotiations in 2021-22, subject to that being possible at that time. In our view this is the best way of preserving the national collective bargaining machinery, both this year and beyond. In reaching such an agreement UCEA would be absolutely clear, on behalf of our members, that we remain committed to the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (New JNCHES) as the central committee for multi-employer negotiations and dialogue on pay and pay-related issues. 

If this position could be agreed, we would suggest a continuing dialogue between UCEA and sector unions through the rest of this year, potentially following the format of our recent roundtable. This would allow us to monitor the financial situation as autumn unfolds and to share perspectives on the impact on the workforce. Such a dialogue would also help to inform our preparations for the 2021-22 negotiating round. 

I appreciate that this is a difficult message to receive, but I hope that the Union Side will give it your fullest consideration, recognising the gravity of the situation. As we have emphasised previously, UCEA is committed to working with sector trade unions as we seek to deal with the challenges created by the pandemic. 

I look forward to your response and, if it would be helpful, I am happy to discuss this with you further. 

Best wishes, 

Raj Jethwa
Chief executive 

Appendix 2

Joint trade union initial response to UCEA

The Joint higher education trade unions, EIS, GMB, UCU, Unite, UNISON, were extremely disappointed to receive the statement from UCEA in relation to pay for the forthcoming year from 1 August 2020. We know that the proposal to not provide any annual pay uplift for higher education staff will anger and concern many particularly given the hard work of staff during the coronavirus lockdown.

The joint trade unions, in response to the UCEA position, are calling for the following:

  • consideration to be given to increasing pay by, at least, inflation in order to ensure that staff don't suffer a pay cut from 1 August 2020;
  • consideration to be given to providing increases to address compression at the lower end of the pay spine along with increases in pay on the lowest spinal column points in order to meet the national living wage (and the Living Wage Foundation rates where that is followed): 
  • a national higher education job security commitment; 
  • a commitment to the New JNCHES national bargaining structures for 2021/22, and future years, with HEIs signalling clear commitment to this process; 
  • a New JNCHES pay negotiation meeting to be held before mid-July 2020;
  • for the New JNCHES autumn meeting to be convened as a higher education pay and finances review meeting 
  • for discussion to continue on the equality and pay-related elements of the joint unions' claim including, but not limited to, tackling the gender and ethnic pay gap, casualisation of the workforce, workloads, Scottish JNCHES sub-committee.

List of participating HEIs under JNCHES 2020-21

University of Aberdeen
Abertay University
Aberystwyth University
Anglia Ruskin University
University of the Arts London
Arts University Bournemouth
Aston University
Bangor University
University of Bath
Bath Spa University
University of Bedfordshire
Birkbeck, University of London
University of Birmingham*
Bishop Grosseteste University
University of Bolton
Bournemouth University
University of Bradford
University of Brighton
University of Bristol
Brunel University London
Buckinghamshire New University
University of Cambridge
Canterbury Christ Church University
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Cardiff University
University of Central Lancashire
University of Chester
University of Chichester
City, University of London
Courtauld Institute of Art
Coventry University
University of Cumbria
De Montfort University
University of Derby*
University of Dundee
Durham University
University of East Anglia
University of East London
Edge Hill University
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Napier University
University of Essex
University of Exeter
Falmouth University
University of Glasgow
Glasgow Caledonian University
Glasgow School of Art
University of Gloucestershire
Wrexham Glyndŵr University
Goldsmiths, University of London
University of Greenwich
Harper Adams University
Heriot-Watt University
University of Hertfordshire
University of Huddersfield
University of Hull
Keele University*
University of Kent
Kingston University London
Lancaster University
University of Leeds
Leeds Beckett University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Trinity University
University of Leicester
University of Lincoln
University of Liverpool
Liverpool Hope University
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
Liverpool John Moores University
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
London Metropolitan University
London School of Economics & Political Science
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
London South Bank University
University of London (Senate)
Loughborough University
University of Manchester
Manchester Metropolitan University
Middlesex University
Newcastle University
Newman University
University of Northampton
Northumbria University
Norwich University of the Arts
University of Nottingham*
Nottingham Trent University
Open University
University of Oxford
Oxford Brookes University
University of Plymouth
University of Portsmouth
Queen Margaret University
Queen Mary University of London
Queen's University Belfast
University of Reading
Robert Gordon University
University of Roehampton
Rose Bruford College
Royal Academy of Music
Royal Agricultural University
The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Royal College of Art
Royal College of Music
Royal Holloway, University of London
Royal Northern College of Music
Royal Veterinary College
University of Salford
University of Sheffield
Sheffield Hallam University
SOAS, University of London
University of Southampton
Solent University, Southampton
University of South Wales
University of St Andrews
St George's University of London
St Mary's University College, Belfast
St Mary's University, Twickenham
Staffordshire University
University of Stirling
University of St Mark & St John (Plymouth Marjon)
Stranmillis University College
University of Strathclyde
University of Suffolk
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
Swansea University
Teesside University
Trinity Laban
Ulster University
University College Birmingham
University College London
University for the Creative Arts
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
University of Warwick
University of West London
University of the West of England, Bristol
University of the West of Scotland
University of Westminster
University of Winchester
University of Wolverhampton
University of Worcester
University of York
York St John University
Writtle University College

*Participate for part of the workforce only.

Last updated: 20 July 2020