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Unions probe finds thousands of university staff earn less than the Living Wage

More than half of UK universities do not pay some of their staff enough to cover standard living costs, the National Union of Students (NUS) and Unison have claimed.

The unions have published new research showing 80 institutions across the country have paid some staff less than the UK Living Wage.

But employers have defended their wage policies, arguing that staff on low pay receive additional benefits such as generous pensions and holiday entitlement.

The Living Wage Foundation has announced the new rate for the living wage is £7.65 outside London – up from £7.45.

The results of a Freedom of Information request issued to institutions by the NUS and Unison showed that 12,592 university employees are paid less than this. The average lowest salary across the 141 UK universities who responded to the survey was £7.39.

The unions are now campaigning for every UK university to pay all employees the living wage.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “This research shows that while vice-chancellors are enjoying six figures salaries, many more university workers are at the bottom of the pay scale, struggling to survive on less than the Living Wage.”

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt commented: “Staff in our universities have suffered real-terms pay cuts year after year, while those at the top have continued to enjoy rises.” 

The report follows strike action by members of UCU, Unison and Unite over a 1 per cent pay rise offer for lecturers and support staff.

UCU has written to the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) - the university employers’ negotiating body – calling for new negotiations over the pay offer.

But Universities UK said higher education employees get a range of benefits that are not necessarily reflected in salaries alone.

Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: “Universities have few problems recruiting and retaining staff at the lower levels of the pay spine. This is in large part due to the excellent benefits package offered, particularly when compared with other local employers.

“The living wage is an important benchmark but does not recognise the full breadth of employment benefits enjoyed by staff in the higher education sector. Benefits include a generous pension scheme, excellent sickness and maternity pay and above average holiday entitlement.”