University employers say union demands on pay are unaffordable | Education
Union demands on pensions, pay and conditions are unaffordable and will put vulnerable institutions that are already in deficit at even greater risk, university employers have said.
Speaking before strike action planned for this week on 74 campuses across the UK, the employers said many institutions that had already reported shortfalls were being asked to go beyond what they could afford to meet union demands.
They appealed to the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, librarians, technicians and other academic staff, to go back to their membership with the latest revised offer in the hope of breaking the stalemate between the two sides.
UCU members are due to go out on strike on Thursday for the first of 14 days of industrial action in what is being described as the largest wave of strikes ever seen on UK campuses. It is expected to impact on more than a million students, many of whom are now veterans of university industrial action.
It is the third time higher education staff have taken industrial action since 2018, most recently before Christmas when 40,000 staff at 60 universities went out on strike for eight days over the same issues. Staff at a further 14 universities subsequently voted in favour of industrial action after being re-balloted by the UCU, taking the total number of institutions up to 74.
Mark E Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton and chair of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said employers had moved a long way to meet the demands of union members, particularly on casualisation, gender pay and workload.
“We know that in many institutions they are at the edge – or beyond – what they can really afford. If you look at the number of institutions that have reported deficits this year, it’s a very difficult position for them.”
Universities pay more than half of their overall income on staff costs. “Therefore if your major cost is inflating further, the logical conclusion is those institutions which are under financial pressure will be under increasing pressure,” said Smith. “I would not want to be as alarmist as to say some will go under, however you can join the dots up and see where the logical conclusion of that lies.”
Smith called on the UCU to go back to their members with the detail of the final offer.
“The employers have moved a long way on this, but according to the negotiating team of the union it’s not enough, but that’s their view,” he said. “We don’t know what their members think.”
Students, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact on their studies, with many launching petitions urging universities to address what they see as legitimate staff concerns and others demanding compensation for lost tuition.
A UCU spokesperson said: “The reason staff are walking out and education is being disrupted from Thursday is because universities have failed to move the conversation forward and address the concerns of staff.”