University staff pay into the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which is the UK’s biggest pension fund, and a planned increase of salary contributions of 9.6% has angered many. Concerns over minimal pay rises, equality and workloads is also contributing to the feeling of being undervalued and as a result, staff on 60 campuses across the UK will walk out for a total of eight days from 25 November 2019.
Professor Anthony Forster, the vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, became the first sector leader to argue the case against the USS and call for institutions to pay more into the pensions fund and limit the impact on staff. He also suggested that the likely result of a failure to reach a compromise would lead to the Pensions Regulator imposing a solution that would not benefit either party.
Pay disputes have also been a major issue, with many staff in lesser roles questioning why vice-chancellors are paid so highly – in February 2019, the Guardian reported that six vice-chancellors in the UK were paid salaries in excess of £500,000 – and wincing as salt is rubbed into the wounds. Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary for the University and College Union, explained that the high pay scale is down to the fact that vice-chancellors are effective and influential figures within their institutions and the sector at large. She calls on other members of staff to voice their opinions on how their roles also have a great impact.
Many vice-chancellors have warned that further contribution increases on the part of the employer could result in redundancies and that the majority of institutions will be unable to afford any higher pay increase than the previously stated 1.8%. Currently, universities pay 65% of pension contributions, with staff making up the other 35%. If employers make the decision to help offset the cost for staff by making additional contributions, they are within their right to do this, but there is unlikely to be another settlement that will effect contributions on a national level.