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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Scheduled pay talks between university employers and the higher education staff unions have resulted in an offer of a minimum of 1.7 per cent.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said that under the offer, every staff member would receive a rise of at least 1.7 per cent, with those on the lowest pay bands receiving up to 2.4 per cent.
The organisation, which represents 148 HE employers, described the offer as “significant and fair” and “final”, saying it hoped it would be “considered positively” by the unions.
Professor Mark Smith, Chair of UCEA and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lancaster, said: “We have seen constructive and considered negotiations over our three meetings and I now hope that the trade unions will feel they have a significant and fair outcome. We have explained that this offer is at, and for some of our HE institutions beyond, a level of affordability without any other compensating actions, but we also know that employers want to maintain sector pay competitiveness in this difficult inflationary environment.
“With this outcome no one would get less than a 1.7% uplift and very many would see increases of more than this, either through pay progression or through the greater increases to the lower pay points.”
The unions’ reaction to the offer is not yet known. The University and College Union (UCU) said the offer is being discussed in its branches around the country.
“Their [the branches’] feedback will be considered by the negotiators as part of their report to the higher education sector conference on 28 May which will decided on the next steps,” a spokesperson said.
Previously, the UCU had said that pay for university staff had fallen by nearly 15 per cent in real terms since 2009, while that of vice chancellors had risen an average of five per cent in one year.
The two sides have also discussed further joint work on bridging the gender gap in university pay and on casual employment. The unions say men in higher education earn nearly 13 per cent more than women.
New figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest that the gender pay gap in higher education is narrowing.
For academic employees the gender pay gap has fallen from 14.6 per cent to 11.1 per cent in the four years from 2011-12 to 2015-16, while for all employees it fell from 16.2 per cent to 13.7 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16.
The gender pay gap in the HE sector has fallen faster than in the economy as a whole in the past five years, including the public sector and the wider education sector.
Helen Fairfoul, Chief Executive of UCEA, said: “This is very good news. Both the continuing downward trajectory and the pace that higher education institutions are achieving in addressing the gender pay gap is evidence of serious efforts bearing fruit. All our member institutions use job evaluation to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. However, we know that institutions recognise there's more work to do and UCEA will continue to support this."
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