Warwick University staff demand pay cut for highest earners to save low-paid workers

Staff at the University of Warwick are demanding 350 of their colleagues who earn over £90k per year take a modest pay cut to avoid laying off 50% of seasonal teaching staff.

Workers at the University of Warwick have written to their Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Croft, to demand that instead of laying off 50% of hourly paid teaching staff, he and 350 other staff members who earn over £90k per year take a modest pay cut. 

A fractional pay cut for high-earning staff would save over £5 million, said over 500 university employees who have signed the open letter.

Like many other UK universities, Warwick expects to be hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, with both domestic and international student numbers for next year likely to be affected. The University has told staff it aims to save £50m in the 2020-21 academic year and plans to borrow another £50m. 

The first savings opportunity identified by University management is the spend on ‘sessional teaching,’ which they propose to reduce by half. Sessional teachers are academics who teach seminars, classes and lab sessions and often spend the most face-to-face time with students, despite being employed on casual part-time or fixed-term contracts.

Many are PhD students or recent PhD graduates with no other source of income. University management say that by cutting the budget for sessional teaching by 50%, they could make up to 11% of the required savings for 2020-21.

In response, the University and College Union (UCU) letter points to publicly available salary information which shows that 183 Warwick University staff earn £100k or more per year; another 200 staff earn £90k or more. The Vice-Chancellor receives £370k per year in salary and benefits.

UCU suggests that a modest reduction in salary for these high earners would save more money than the proposed reduction in teaching jobs.

Salaries of over £90k are set by Warwick itself, outside nationally negotiated university pay scales. Yet Vice-Chancellor Croft, when asked about the UCU proposal, suggested that a salary sacrifice scheme would have to apply to everyone, down to the lowest paid.

Vice-Chancellors and senior management at other institutions such as the University of Manchester, University of Edinburgh and Cambridge University have already agreed to reduce their own pay to help their institutions deal with the impact of COVID-19 – as have various business leaders.

Dr Myka Tucker-Abramson, Warwick UCU (University and College Union) branch chair, said: “The Vice-Chancellor made a public commitment to ‘protecting jobs’ as a central principle of Warwick’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

“However, the university management has chosen to threaten the income and security of low-paid and precarious colleagues, when they could make real savings by taking a look at the exorbitant pay at the top of the institution. 

“The threats to our precariously employed colleagues are particularly concerning when university staff are already struggling with excessive workloads. Those remaining will be expected to take up the slack, in a period when the conversion to socially distanced and online teaching will require more, not fewer, teaching staff.”

Dr Tara Mulqueen, vice-chair of Warwick UCU, added: “This is an equalities issue. Only 25% of staff employed at the highest-earning grades are women and less than 10% are BAME.

“If the University is serious about addressing its pay gaps and achieving equality it will cut from the top, not the bottom.”