USS and Pay

Welcome back for the start of a new, exciting academic year.

You will have received two recent announcements letting you know that it is more expensive than ever to work here. First, news of the 2019-2020 imposed pay award, which – contrary to management’s usual spin – fails substantially to meet UCU’s demands and continues the annual tradition of sub-inflation increases that have led to real pay declining by 20% since 2009. Second, an announcement from USS on August 23rd  that members’ contributions will, if implemented, increase from the current 8.8% to 9.6% on Oct 1st (and then to 11% on Oct 1st 2021 unless altered by a 2020 valuation).

The University’s pay award announcement correctly says that this year’s pay increase is between 1.8% and 3.65%, but the increases are tapered towards the lower three bands of the pay scale. We fully support higher increases for staff on the lowest wages. Nevertheless, the award for UCU members is only 1.8% and we object to the University’s outrageous claim the average pay increase “is above inflation and has also been above inflation over the past five and ten year periods”, which they arrive at by adding annual increments to the 1.8%. This ignores that fact that 50% of staff are at the top of their pay grades, and therefore receive no incremental uplift and rely entirely upon annual pay settlements to maintain their and their families’ standard of living, and is an insult to the loyalty of all staff who stay beyond 4-8 years (depending on the length of grade).


We have also received updated information on pay equality at the University of Manchester. Earlier this year, we learned that the University’s mean gender pay gap increased, rising from 17.1% the previous year to 18.4% this year. But not to worry, we were assured, most of this inequality is explained by the University’s high rate of casualized academic labour (“arises primarily from an increase in the number of casual employees” – Karen Heaton, HR, 14 March 2019), which as we all know is highly feminized.


This is all against the backdrop of unceasing growth in university incomes and continuing healthy surpluses. At the University of Manchester, payroll cost as a percentage of the total running cost of the University has fallen over the last decade. Meanwhile, University financial statements continue to classify the University’s £400 million in (growing) estates debt as a prudent and essential investment, but the £200 million in (stable) liabilities for staff pensions as a volatile source of uncertainty.

Turning to USS pensions, intense negotiations have been taking place throughout the summer. There were further talks between UCU and UUK last Wednesday and the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) met last Friday to discuss developments. Our pressure had led to an offer limiting the immediate rise in contributions to 9.1%  (initially  with an impossible-to-accept demand that UCU agree to a two-year moratorium on strike action over USS –  but this was subsequently dropped). However, HEC determined that the offer did not come close enough to meeting our demands, still leaving a future increase to 11% (if the valuation remains the same but potentially more if it doesn’t), and failing fully to implement the recommendations of the JEP first report or  to address fundamental concerns over valuation methodology. We either lock ourselves in to unnecessary ongoing contribution hikes and declining benefits, or we put a stop to it now. An article by Sam Marsh, one of UCU’s negotiators, which explains the background very well, can be found here. UUK’s perspective on their offer can be found here.

You may not closely follow the acronym-soup of USS, UUK, JNC, JEP, HEC and on and on. But you know that the UK’s university system is reaching breaking point. The goodwill upon which it has relied for so long – and which springs from our own passion for our work – has been taken for granted. Its value, in economic and psychological terms, is now obvious to all.


All of these issues – pensions, pay, the gender pay gap, casualisation and workload – are intimately connected. They cannot be solved in isolation. This is why UCU is running a ballot in the coming weeks that will prepare our sector for strike action to make concrete gains in each of these areas.


The autumn will be volatile for myriad reasons in the UK. But that is not an excuse to acquiesce to disastrous working conditions that steadily corrode and erode our educational institutions. We must mobilize and act in solidarity because it is our only option.

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