In the face of a severe economic downturn, members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), including lecturers and academics, are demanding significant increases to their annual salaries. The UCU would like to see an 8% pay raise for lecturers, starting next year. However, when inflation is taken into account, the pay increase will only amount to 3.5%.

The UCU will submit a pay claim for 2009-10 to the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA). The UCU is currently in a deadlock with the UCEA, due to the UCU’s refusal to bargain with other organizations representing university staff. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU said: “As the largest union in the sector, we expect our claim to be taken seriously and properly considered by the employers’ body.”

Despite the probability of the pay raise being approved, a UCEA spokesman stated: “Not only is the preparation of this claim premature, it also seems to have been constructed without any reference to the exceptional recent pay increases and current economic environment.”

In 2006, academics went on strike for higher wages, and received a 15.9% increase to be installed gradually over three years. University employers plan on paying the 8% increase for this year, though many admit it will be a struggle in this depressed economic climate.

“For too long, university employers held down staff pay rises”

There were some doubts about the UCEA fulfilling the gradual pay raise, but the UCU has been quite determined, their hopes buoyed by their expectations having been met in previous years. “Recent increases have gone some way to righting that wrong, but there is still a long way to go. UCU members are determined to defend the value of the pay rises they have won and we will be submitting our claim as normal,” said Hunt.

Many feel that academics and lecturers don’t receive enough compensation for their work. Among all the fields that require post-graduate degrees, university academics are in the lowest paying bracket, averaging £8.92 per hour. Hunt said: “For too long, university employers held down staff pay rises. Nobody can refute that staff in higher education work extremely hard or that they deserve to be properly rewarded.”

The economic conditions have undoubtedly complicated the already intricate issue. Malcolm Keight, the national head of higher education for the UCU, said: “We are aware of the economic climate and anticipate a tough budget round, but our concern is that catch-up still needs to be achieved for some staff.” Though it will be difficult for the employers to implement the raises in this economic state, they are more needed than ever.

Furthermore, some argue that the eminence of UK universities will be at risk if academics do not receive more in their salaries. Sally Hunt agreed, saying: “universities have relied on the goodwill of their staff as workloads have shot up and pay has declined in relative terms. Unless pay and workloads are urgently addressed, the quality of higher education in the UK will be under threat.”

At former conferences held to discuss pay raises for academics, the executive committee decided the final pay claim figures. However, for the conference this year, union members will make that decision. Lloyd Donald, a union member, described the new conference system as “hopeful and inspirational.”

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