YAS statement on UK higher education industrial disputes


On the industrial dispute between higher education trade unions and UCEA/UUK regarding pay, equity, contracts, working conditions, and pensions.

The Young Academy of Scotland (YAS) is a group of young professionals from academia, business, the public sector, and third sector established by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2011 to promote cross-sector collaboration on the most challenging issues facing Scotland and the world.

We recognise the strength and diversity of Scotland’s academic sector as an essential component of Scotland’s potential to meet national and global challenges. Scotland’s vitality as a leading nation for higher education and a beacon for the world’s students, educators, and researchers is under threat from unsustainable and inequitable conditions here and across the UK that are subject to industrial dispute.

We note:

  • Pay in UK institutions of higher education has fallen significantly in the last decade relative to inflation, effectively reducing compensation by the equivalent of one career grade or more in many cases. The situation is made worse by a drastic recent cut to defined benefit pension earnings based on a valuation timing and risk methodology that have been severely questioned. This makes UK institutions less competitive in international academic labour markets and makes academic careers within the UK less attractive and viable for all. The effect is highly inequitable, creating the greatest barriers for those with the least wealth and privilege to pursue academic careers, which require significant up-front sacrifices in time, pay, and opportunities whilst training to be a world-leading expert in one’s field.
  • Pay inequality, including documented disparities by gender, race, and disability, exacerbates the many overt and hidden barriers to success for minoritised current and potential academic workers. The persistence of inequitable compensation in academia is not just an injustice in itself, but also a major and avoidable obstacle to the full participation of all members of the academic community in addressing wider challenges in scholarship and society.
  • Reliance on insecure contracts and insufficient pathways to permanent academic careers exacerbate these concerns still further, with the greatest harm falling on the least privileged academic workers at the earliest stages of their careers. A sustainable and thriving academic sector requires that workers be able to build sustainable and thriving careers, which are an essential condition of the complex and long-term work necessary to solve the major challenges on which academic workers collaborate.
  • Academic workers routinely work in significant excess of contracted hours to support students and carry out research along with other necessities of academic employment. A sector that relies on such significant unpaid additional work to meet essential functions creates major risks to the quality and indeed the completion of that work, while at the same time deleteriously drawing time and attention from the creative and contemplative activity that is the key to scholarly breakthroughs on major challenges.

We emphatically support higher education trade unions in Scotland and the UK in their collective action to address these concerns, which speak to the core of YAS’s mission in Scotland and beyond.

We call upon:

  • University employers to negotiate earnestly, collaboratively, and creatively to reach a meaningful resolution to the industrial dispute.
  • Representatives in Holyrood and Westminster to commit to necessary financial support and policy reforms (for example regarding student recruitment) to enable sustainable long-term resolutions to the issues under dispute.
  • Leaders in academia, business, the public sector, and third sector to join us in recognising the urgency of the matters under dispute and to advocate for their resolution.

This statement has been written by individual YAS members and members of the YAS Facilitating Group.  It does not necessarily represent the views of all YAS members.