UCL’s “Pay and Reward package” – what does it mean?

21 July 2023

Yesterday, UCL announced a “Pay and Reward package” of measures to staff.

For the avoidance of doubt, UCL is NOT making these changes as part of the national pay discussions, and has NOT asked UCL UCU to accept this as an ‘offer’ to end the dispute. 

The MAB therefore continues, and we need to keep up the pressure to improve on the “Four Fights”: staff pay, workloads, equity, and casualisation.

These changes to the pay scales at UCL have some welcome aspects and, for some staff, will partially offset the impact of inflation. However, much of the money here is not new. The Provost’s 9.5% figure bundles together: normal annual pay increments, new pay increments for staff who would not otherwise receive one, the current national below-inflation pay offer of 5%, and a slightly more generous London Weighting.

It is also worth noting that this package is being released as UCL faces the 27th July deadline for reporting an ‘event’ to the Office for Students due to the MAB and is keen to see the MAB end.

What the changes mean

With the exception of London Weighting, about which we have been in talks for more than a year, the other changes have been imposed without consultation with the trade unions. All of these changes are also separate from national pay bargaining.

The changes are complicated and are documented in detail on UCL’s webpage announcing them. UCL says that: “The local measures in this package will raise the median pay award for our staff to 9.5% in 2023”

However, this is largely due to UCL creating new opportunities for standard annual increments and the current national pay offer.

The proposals can be roughly broken down as follows

  • 5% = The current national pay offer from August 2023, which is far below inflation.
  • 3% = For our members, standard annual increments are worth approximately 3%, but around half of all staff are normally ineligible because they are at or above the top non-discretionary grade point. UCL has added a new top point and is applying it to everyone at the current top of their grade. This means that most staff (except those already on contribution points, and Professors on grade 10) should receive an increment this year. N.B. The first round of these changes will be implemented in December 2023, and not backdated to August. Further points will then be added in 2025 and 2026.
  • 1.5% = UCL has agreed to pay an additional £200 on London Weighting, with a further increase to London Weighting for staff on Grades 1 to 7 of £500 in December 2023.

These changes do not conflict with national pay bargaining arrangements because the beginning and end points of grades and London Weighting are locally negotiated. 

Many aspects of these changes, such as any appraisal-related conditionality for moving to higher grade progression points, have not yet been negotiated, consulted on, nor announced.  Nor has UCL yet made any detailed announcements regarding pay scales for professorial staff.

Why is UCL making these changes?

The current UCL Provost has spoken out repeatedly about the low levels of UK Higher Education salaries. HE pay is not only falling in real terms against inflation, but it is also falling in comparison with pay for comparable posts in the private sector and comparator institutions. UCL HR told unions that the number of management applications for “market supplements” (allowable temporary pay premia in hard-to-recruit-or-retain areas) doubled in the last year.

Staff pay has also fallen as a proportion of overall budgets in UK HE institutions (from 55% to just over 50% in two years), due to not keeping up with inflation. There is money to spend: at least £100m is expected in surplus this year. We also believe UCL sees the potential for USS to yield reduced employer contributions by April 2024 at the latest.

Last but not least, UCL is well aware of the scale of action UCU members have been taking in the Marking and Assessment Boycott, and the level of support for it across the university, the sector, and in public.

We need to maintain this pressure. These changes show that universities can pay considerably more to their staff than the national pay offer. But we also need to defend the principle of national pay bargaining, not just for ourselves, but for the next generation of staff and our colleagues across the UK.

So while we're glad UCL agrees with the union that staff should be paid more, we also believe that the government needs to fund Higher Education properly. This isn't only about the union versus the employers, it's also about 13 years of public service destruction by successive Conservative governments, and undervaluing the huge and necessary contribution Higher Education makes to the economy, and the daily functioning of the lives of everyone in the country via the teachers, engineers, lawyers, nurses, doctors, etc. that we train.

While we welcome some positive moves, these do not address present inflation, let alone 15 years of real-terms pay cuts.

The cost of inflation

Despite some exaggerated headlines, inflation remains remarkably robust:

  • CPI for June fell slightly to 7.9% per annum, but RPI (the trade unions’ agreed measure) is at 11.3% (down by 0.1 percentage point from May).
  • If inflation does not fall by August, the two-year impact on salary points 26 and above represents a decline in the real value of wages of 13.5% against RPI and 8.8% against CPI.
  • These figures are conservative and do not account for the high cost of living in London or personal circumstances.

If inflation remains at this level, the entire UCL pay spine will devalue (point by point) by nearly 9% over the two years August 2021-23, even taking the more employer-friendly CPI measure. This is the equivalent of annually performing free labour for UCL for 49 days.

In short, the context is that ‘real’ pay is going down faster than incremental progression might move colleagues up the scale. So, every year, our pay is going down, and that is despite these changes to salary scales!

UCL UCU Executive Committee