Some of Britain's most famous universities pay their fundraising teams less than the Living Wage


Some of Britain’s biggest universities are paying less than the Living Wage to staff on their alumni fundraising teams responsible for soliciting donations from graduates.

The universities of Durham, Southampton and Newcastle – all members of the prestigious Russell Group of public research institutions – have been criticised for awarding staff less than the £7.65-an-hour national Living Wage for workers to meet basic needs. Durham paid just £6.50 an hour, rising by 84p after probation, for its telephone campaign earlier this year. Reading and the University of West London (UWL) also failed pay the Living Wage.

The University of Sheffield recently emailed students inviting applications for “bright, enthusiastic and articulate” people to join its growing team of ‘student callers’. A university spokesman said that on 1 August it implemented a Living Wage policy for all staff and will pay fundraisers for its autumn campaign £8.02 per hour – it had been paying £7.45 per hour until this month.

Newcastle University will pay student callers £7.25 for its upcoming autumn campaign. Of the universities surveyed, London South Bank pays the most at almost £11 per hour but not everyone in the capital receives similar pay. UWL pays just £7.50 an hour, much less than the London Living Wage of £8.80.

The University of York amended its website after being contacted by The Independent to state its £7.50-per-hour rate was not inclusive of holiday pay. A spokeswoman said student callers earn an extra 90p per hour for every 8.3 hours worked, taking its rate above the Living Wage.

Leeds Metropolitan University pays its callers more than £9 per hour and is recruiting staff for its next telephone campaign in October. The job description states: “It is not cold-calling. Everyone we intend to call is sent a pre-call letter or emails letting them know that a Leeds Metropolitan University student will be contacting them to ask for a donation to Bright futures and to update them on our news and events. Anyone not wishing to be called will be given the opportunity to opt-out before the campaign begins.”

A graduate from 2000, who did not want to be named, said he recently received both phone calls and letters recently asking him to donate.

He said: “It’s a bloody cheek because they didn’t provide my education out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s a business and they were paid for it. Why then do they think any of their alumni would want to give them money? I suppose maybe if I was rich and in the public eye that would be different. Not that I blame them, but I certainly think it a bit insulting to even be asked. Not much different that a chugger [charity mugger] in my book.”

Many other universities are increasing the size of their fundraising teams to increase their income stream from donors, but the process is proving controversial for recent graduates saddled with huge debt. They say the alumni funds are vital for providing lower income students with hardship funds, scholarships and equipment among other areas.

However recent graduates laden with debt are more likely to be angered by being solicited for donations with many pointing to rocketing vice-chancellors’ pay as evidence that cash-rich universities should improve conditions for lower-ranking staff. Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, accepted a £105,000 salary increase last year, which lifted his basic pay from £265,000 to £370,000 in 2012-13, while the vice-chancellors of York and Southampton were paid £276,000 and £330,000 respectively that year. Newcastle University’s vice-chancellor, Chris Brink, saw his total package rise last year by less than one per cent from £277,000 to £279,000.

A spokesman for the University of Southampton, which pays £7.43 per hour, said: “[Students] are aware that some universities pay their student callers more - we pay less than some London universities in particular - but some other universities around the country pay less than we do. The rate of pay they offer is agreed under guidelines specified by the university’s human resources.”

The University of Durham’s spokeswoman said: “The Living Wage campaign takes no account of other benefits which our staff enjoys such as holiday pay. Given the lack of control over the formula and the factors used to calculate the Living Wage, it is possible that adopting the Living Wage is simply not sustainable in the medium term as a pay policy which helps to maintain job security for our staff.”

A spokesperson for the University of Newcastle said: “The rate of pay is higher than minimum wage and also includes holiday pay.”

A spokesperson for UWL said about its student callers: “This is entirely part-time, voluntary work – which they choose to do to earn some money - plus it gives them some useful experience of working alongside professional colleagues at the university.”

A Reading University spokesperson said it was raising its hourly pay to £7.50 in the autumn and gave bonuses to student callers of £25 for securing £1,500 in donations.

Only 10 universities are accredited with the Living Wage Foundation in recognition of their pay policies. Rhys Moore, the Foundation’s director, said: “We believe that employers who can afford to pay the Living Wage should do so and we are keen to engage positively with the sector to increase take up of the Living Wage. We look forward to working with more Higher Education organisations across the country.”

The most recent rates of pay

  • Warwick - £8.33 per hour plus £1.00 per hour holiday pay.
  • Leeds Met – More than £9.00 per hour
  • Newcastle - £7.25 per hour
  • Edinburgh - £8.57 per hour
  • Southampton - £7.43 per hour
  • Kings College London - £9.03 per hour
  • Bristol - £7.65 per hour plus an extra 12.07 per cent holiday pay bonus, paid in a lump sum at the end of the campaign on completion of contract
  • Trinity College, Oxford - £8 per hour
  • St Peter’s College, Oxford - £8.12 per hour, plus free meals and accommodation
  • Surrey - £7.39 per hour plus £0.97 per hour holiday pay
  • London South Bank University - £10.80 per hour
  • University of York - £7.50 per hour
  • Warwick - £8.49 per hour plus £1.02 holiday pay
  • Durham - £6.50 per hour including holiday pay, rising to £7.34/hr after probation
  • Bath - £7.48 per hour plus holiday pay
  • The University of West London - £7.50 per hour
  • Reading - £7.10 per hour
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