EU research funding fears should not be used to depress university wages, says Unite

University bosses should not use speculation about future EU research spending in the UK to avoid giving higher education (HE) staff a decent pay rise, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Thursday 21 July).

Unite, which has about 16,000 members in HE, said that it would be holding a strike ballot in response to the ‘paltry’ 1.1 per cent pay offer for August 2016-August 2017 proposed by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).

Unite, which will be working closely with other HE unions on the pay campaign, will start balloting its members in the middle of August and will close on 8 September. This follows a consultative ballot which showed that 75 per cent of Unite members rejected the pay offer.

Unite national officer for education Mike McCartney said: “The derisory pay offer is less than the current Retail Price Index (RPI) for inflation which is running at 1.6 per cent.

“Last year (2015/2016), the pay award was just one per cent, while, at the same time, obscenely paid university vice chancellors are swanning around the world staying in first class hotels.

“Our members have contributed deeply to the excellence of the UK’s university system that is still very attractive to overseas students and is a beacon for research innovation and funding – they, too, should be decently rewarded.

“However, Unite is warning university panjandrums that they should not use the recent Brexit vote and speculation about the future of EU funding for research to depress wages even further.

“There are rumblings in the background in universities that because of potential reduced European funding in research, coupled with the reduction in the number of foreign students, that it could have an impact on pay, either by withdrawing this year’s already paltry offer or on next year’s pay round.

“The UCEA should not be tempted to go down this route as universities need well-qualified and rewarded staff to maintain the UK’s place in the global university rankings.”

Currently, the UK is the second best represented country in the rankings, with 78 universities in the top 800 and 34 in the top 200.

The majority of Unite’s members in the sector are laboratory staff and technicians.