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More than half of British universities pay staff less than the Living Wage

As Living Wage week begins, the NUS steps up its campaign for fair pay in UK universities
  • @Tom_Mendelsohn

British vice-chancellors earn more than 15 times as much on average as the lowest-paid members of university staff, according to new research released today.

80 universities (57 per cent) in the UK pay at least some of their staff less than the recommended Living Wage, the National Union of Students has said.

The median lowest wage for staff at our universities is £7.39, which is 6p less than the Living Wage outside London was in 2012-13 (£7.45) and £1.16 less when inside the capital (£8.55). This year, the Living Wage is calculated at £7.65 outside London, and £8.80 inside it.

In fact, according to a series of FOI requests made by the NUS, 12,592 employees are paid less than the Living Wage. Five universities pay more than 500 of their workforce under that rate, while another 39 have more than 100 staff on lower pay.

The NUS and Unison, which represents many employees at higher education institutions, have been calling for every university in the British Isles to become accredited Living Wage employers.

According to the research, 61 universities already do pay their in-house staff above the Living Wage, including the University of East London, LSE, SOAS, Wolverhampton, Huddersfield, Kent, Exeter, Loughborough and Oxford.

Universities in Wales pay the least to their lowest-paid staff, with a regional rate an average of 78p per hour under the Living Wage.

More worryingly, the report admits that outsourced staff – who usually do the most menial work like catering, security and cleaning – are out of the scope of FOI requests. It suggests that privately contracted staff are often paid less than Living Wage. 32 universities outsource all three services.

University leaders, meanwhile, are paid a staggering average salary of £218,746, which is more than 15 times more than that of the average lowest-paid employee, a more modest £14,247 per year. In hourly terms, that’s £113.72 per hour compared to just £7.62.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said that many university workers are “struggling to survive” while “vice-chancellors are enjoying six-figure salaries”

“The value of their pay keeps on falling, while the cost of basics such as food and fuel keeps on rising.

“Universities could not get by without our members working in a wide variety of jobs supporting students on campus, in libraries, course administration, catering, cleaning and security. A living wage is enough to provide workers and their families with the basics of a decent life that is a lesson all universities should learn.”

UCU, another union representing university staff, whose members took strike action on Thursday, said the report was a timely reminder of the discrepancies between the pay of those at the top and the rest of staff in UK universities.

Its general secretary Sally Hunt said staff have “suffered real-terms pay cuts year after year, while those at the top have continued to enjoy rises”.

“This report exposes the unfairness of pay rises for vice-chancellors when some staff are not even paid the living wage,” she said.

To find out more about Living Wage Week, click here