Following last week’s notice to all members on proposed changes to pay, increment and progression for 2020/21, Exeter UCU called for member’s feedback and suggestions for alternative proposals for the University to make savings. We received nearly 100 responses. An Emergency General Meeting of the Branch was then called and held on Monday 22/06/2020, where more details on the proposed finantial options were introduced and options put forward by the membership were discussed. A poll asking to rank all these options in order of preference was then started and the poll ended at 8am on Thursday 24/06/2020 with a total of 291 respondents.

Poll question: Please rank the options from most to least preferred as long as acceptable (leave alone if not acceptable or without opinion)

  1. Scrap “Above & Beyond”
  2. Suspend Senior Management Bonuses and restructure top salaries (pay cap, e.g. £150k).
  3. Suspend Professorial Salary Review 2020 (going up)  
  4. Continue Professorial Salary Review 2020 for pay cut (e.g. 20%) and/or cap all professorial salaries (e.g. £100k)
  5. Suspend Performance Increments in 2020
  6. Early retirement scheme
  7. Voluntary reductions to part-time / fractional hours, for a limited period
  8. Suspend Academic Promotions in 2020/21 (defer pay)
  9. Suspend normal progression Increments for staff in grades E to H

The results show a majority preference for the option n.2 to suspend Senior Management Bonuses and restructure top salaries, followed by preference for the option n.1 to scrap “Above & Beyond”. The next preferred options were roughly following the order in the poll. The salary caps of £100,000 and £150,000 were figure examples suggested by members, they were not based on any commercially sensitive figures shared by HR with the Branch negotiating team, nor any budget predictions, as those have not yet been shared with the team.

Savings to be made with these options will be requested this afternoon during our meeting with HR, where the University Head of Finances is expected to be in attendance. However, it is our impression that the suggested figure of £150,000 is in fact too high. Other UCU branches have suggested much lower salary caps (Warwick have suggested £90k, Liverpool: £100k, Sussex have suggested a 6: 1 salary ratio which works out at roughly £100k). A £150k would deliver much smaller savings—which ultimately means less protection for early career and precariously employed colleagues. There is also the simple issue of fairness: those on very high salaries should be expected to make significant sacrifices before we move on to discuss measures which affect all academics and PS staff. And it is difficult to find a justification in the current situation (if there ever was at all) for anyone to be earning >£100k. There is great appetite among the membership to propose a lower cap, at £80,000. “It is hard to imagine anyone arguing that they need to be paid more than that, when colleagues across the university are being asked to endure so much.”

Besides the huge savings that can be made, there are many reasons why the “Above & Beyond” scheme should be scrapped. The implementation of this in terms of who get nominated and for how much is characterised by all sorts of vagaries. It is a fickle tool for individualised incentivised management. We have all been asked to go ‘above and beyond’ as a matter of course at this time, and we already have grave concerns about the potential discrimination resulting from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on different personal circumstances.

We reproduce below (almost verbatim) a sample of the comments received through our feedback form.

It is not enough that the university should agree to reinstate T&Cs at a specified point in the future. The old normal was not good enough. If we are all to make sacrifices it should be to bring about a better normal in the future. The University should therefore agree to a transparent process whereby the standard model is not requiring excessive surplus to pay for new buildings but should be in staff retention, reduced working hours and reduction in casualisation – as per wider UCU objectives. To ensure this is done, there should be UCU representation on all strategic committees with appropriate SWARM hours given.
Much concern for staff on temporary/precarious contracts.
Has the university made all other possible cost saving measures before hitting salaries? For example DevonLive carried the story *last week* of planning permission having just being granted for a new university building. Is the university pausing all such costly developments before adjusting staff pay budgets?
Will Steve Smith still be paid an estimated £830,000? If his ‘golden goodbye’ is not seriously adjusted, these proposals look grossly unfair.
How will the university square its pausing of promotions and other performance-related salary changes with its commitment to addressing the gender and BAME pay gaps? Holding back all staff at a time when these issues are under review would surely harm some staff (+ their families) more than others.
Let’s PERMANENTLY cap all senior management, professorial and exec salaries at £150k
This is a very difficult situations for us to be in. Academics are taking on a lot of extra work to continue to offer top quality education. But in addition to still being in dispute about pensions, pay, etc., we’re now also facing what amounts to a reduction in pay. On top of which, many of us will have to continue to work from home, where we are expected to set up adequate working spaces at our own expense. The additional work and reduced working conditions will make it much more difficult for many of us to pass probation and achieve promotions. I guess I just really need some assurance that these sacrifices will be recognised and compensated in some way eventually.
As a Senior Lecturer I am perfectly prepared to suffer a pay freeze, or even a temporary cut in pay, to prevent colleagues losing jobs – but only if the bonus culture at the top were also to be entirely eliminated (permanently), and senior management also cut their own pay by a much more significant amount. I struggle to see why I should suffer financially for the good of this institution when the VC is about to walk away with 800,000 in his pocket. Much more transparency is also needed about how professorial pay would be affected in comparison to those on lower pay bands. There would also need to be serious discussion about pay structures, review processes and transparency for future years as well, so the same problems do not build up again.