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Joint University and Exeter UCU statement

January 2023, with a progress update issued in June 2023


The leadership of the University (“the University”) and the University of Exeter branch of the University and College Union (“UCU”*) have agreed the principles and framework below to progress further University-level discussions and actions on the following issues, building on the progress which has already been made, during the 2022/23 and 2023/24 University years:

  • Pay
  • The next valuation of the USS pension scheme
  • Equality
  • Workload
  • Fair Employment For All
  • Governance

* References to UCU refer to the University of Exeter branch of the University College Union. References to national UCU and UCU nationally refer to the negotiating position and actions taken by UCU nationally across the wider higher education sector.

  1. The University and UCU will seek to progress the principles and aims set out below to develop an improved working environment at the University of Exeter and at national level, through local consultations informing national negotiations.
  2. The University and UCU recognise the importance of remuneration and the working environment to staff recruitment and retention. Decisions on pay and pensions, both nationally and at the level of the University, need to be made within the constraints of University finances, in the short and long term. Decisions on pay and pensions should be clearly communicated to the staff community within the parameters of the national negotiation process.
  3. Working within the clearly communicated parameters of University finances, the University and UCU agree on the need to prioritise the pay and working conditions of colleagues in the lower grades, colleagues on short term contracts, and workers engaged through eClaims, while seeking to ensure that inflationary conditions do not amount to pay degradation at the University.
  4. The University and UCU recognise the significant progress made by the University, in partnership with the campus trade unions, to improve equality, diversity and inclusion and to address concerns about academic workload.
  5. The University and UCU recognise the potential impact of further industrial action on our community and the importance of all stakeholders, at national and local level, seeking, where possible, negotiated outcomes which avoid industrial action.
  1. The University and UCU recognise concerns of the staff community that in 4 of the last 8 years, the outcomes of national pay negotiations have been below the CPIH rate of inflation. In particular, we acknowledge the specific concerns about the rising cost of living in the 2022/23 and 2023/24 national pay negotiations.
  2. The University and UCU further recognise that it generally takes significantly longer to develop the experience to deliver success and progression in an academic career, in comparison with most other professions, and that salaries should reflect this long commitment.
  3. The University and UCU recognise that home undergraduate tuition fees have only been increased once since 2012 and have been frozen since 2017. Both recognise that this funding model has affected the balance of the finances of the Higher Education sector and of the University.
  4. Both parties acknowledge the action taken by employers at national level in implementing increases to staff paid in the lower points of the national payspine at a higher level than the general increase awarded to other staff.
  5. We also jointly acknowledge the action taken by the University to address concerns about low pay by adopting the Living Wage Foundation Living Wage in 2014, resulting in a 52% increase in the lowest hourly rate paid by the University. Likewise, the Thank You payment made by the University in July 2022 is a welcome contribution towards the increasing cost of living which colleagues are experiencing.

Future Actions

  1.  UCU acknowledges the significant financial investment made by the University in November 2022 to improve the reward arrangements of colleagues in Grades B to F to address retention and recruitment challenges. The University acknowledges the demand of the campus trade unions, set out in their joint claim of October 2022, for further dialogue with trade unions to explore local options, within the parameters of national pay negotiations, for flexibility on pay and grading, particularly for the lower pay grades, which will support staff recruitment and retention and begin to address cost of living concerns.
  2. The University and UCU call on UCEA and national UCU to continue to work together in a constructive way to bring the current dispute over the 2022 national pay negotiations to a swift conclusion.
  3. Both parties will seek to influence government decisions on the national funding model for Higher Education, through their representative bodies.


  1. The University and UCU recognise that the provision of affordable pension saving arrangements are important for colleagues who are building a career in higher education, recognising in particular the longer development period and opportunity costs generally associated with developing academic careers in the sector.
  2. We understand stakeholders’ questions about the level of prudency, employer covenant support, increasing contribution rates and reductions in benefits arising from recent valuations of USS. We recognise that these questions and the dispute may have undermined some colleagues’ confidence in the management of the scheme.
  3. We encourage all stakeholders – the USS Trustee, employers and UCU representing scheme members – to work towards a consensus on the principles which will inform the next valuation and to be open about the evidence underpinning their decisions.
  4. Both the University and UCU will seek a sustainable position for the USS scheme and will encourage constructive debate and negotiation between UUK and the UCU nationally on how best to utilise any improvement in the scheme’s financial performance and for that debate to consider, in particular, an improvement in current benefits and/ reduction in costs. The University acknowledges the UCU’s position that priority should be given to improving employee benefits.
  5. We welcome the opportunity for USS employers to work collaboratively with the UCU, as representatives of scheme members, and the independent USS Trustee to explore alternative scheme designs and to develop lower-cost options and flexibility to give members more choice in their retirement saving.
  6. We welcome the USS Trustee’s ambition to be Net Zero for carbon generated by its investments and the announcement of targets to achieve this ambition and agree that Net Zero targets should be reached as soon as possible.

Future Actions

  1. The University and UCU jointly agree to supporting:
    • a review of the scheme’s governance,
    • the new valuation, which should take an appropriate balance between prudence and risk and be concluded as soon as possible;
    • the need for evidence-based explanations of USS pension policies;
    • the consideration by the UUK and UCU JNC team, if the valuation assessment of the scheme’s financial health allows, of an improvement in current benefits and/or a reduction in costs for employees and employers.
  2. The University will continue to keep colleagues up to date with developments during the next valuation and share our responses to any consultations with the staff community.
  1. The University and UCU recognise the importance of developing a work and study environment which achieves the aims of our EDI Vision and of openly communicating our progress towards these aims so that all members of the University community, and prospective applicants, have confidence that they will be treated equally within an inclusive culture.
  2. We recognise the important work of the University in tackling issues of equality in the workplace and the importance of sharing our action plans and reporting progress with the University community.

Future Actions

  1. The University will continue to report annually on the gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, beyond the minimum statutory requirements, and to work with the equality groups, which include trade union representation, to identify the reasons and actions which are necessary to address them.
  2. In particular, we will report on progress against the short, medium and long-term targets agreed by the Council of the University in July 2022 on:
    • Disability, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation disclosure rates;
    • Proportion of Professoriate who are Female and Black Females;
    • Proportion of from BAME and Black backgrounds;
    • Mean Gender Pay Gap (excluding eClaims);
    • Securing and Retaining REC Bronze Award whilst working towards Silver;
    • Athena SWAN Gold.
  3. The University will shortly launch our culture index to understand colleagues' experiences better to inform our future EDI action plans.
  1. The University and UCU recognise colleagues’ concerns about workload and its impact on their wellbeing and effectiveness.
  2. The University and UCU recognise the recent and ongoing efforts made by the University and the UCU to address colleagues’ concerns about academic workload.

Future Actions

  1. To further progress this, the University has established the Workload Allocation and Equity Group, which includes UCU representation, to develop:
    • University Workload Principles to guide workload allocation;
    • an agreed governance framework at University and Faculty level;
    • guidance on the use of the academic workload planning tool;
    • the role of academic leadership and their training and regarding workload allocation;
    • communication and transparency.
  2. The Workload Allocation and Equity Group will consider UCU’s proposals regarding:
    • staff/UCU representation on academic workload planning governance groups within Faculties.
    • guidance on procedures for the review of individual colleagues’ workloads if agreement cannot be reached.
    • sharing information on the number of staff whose academic workload allocation significantly exceeds 100%.
  3. The University will work with UCU to implement the recommendations and to monitor progress.
  4. The University and UCU will encourage all staff to engage positively in academic workload processes.
  1. The University and UCU recognise colleagues’ concerns about the University’s use of fixed term contracts and pay-by-claim (eClaims) working arrangements set out in the UCU’s claim of September 2019.
  2. We recognise the significant progress made by the University to address concerns about the use of fixed term contracts and eClaims working arrangements through its Fair Employment For All initiative, including:
    • Moving the employment of PGR students as Postgraduate Teaching Associates to guaranteed minimum hours contracts with the opportunity for incremental progression.
    • Conversion of a significant number of fixed term contracts to open-ended (permanent) contracts.
    • The agreement of principles for the future engagement of teachers, to be implemented in Faculties from 2022/23 onwards.

Future Actions

  1. The University and UCU commit themselves to progress the four commitments set out under “Contract Types” in UCEA’s final offer dated 9 May 2022 (see below).
  2. The University will continue to work with the campus trade unions to share information, discuss further actions and to communicate its FEFA principles, action plan and progress to the staff community. The University will also work with Faculties and Departments to improve the recording of information on fixed term contracts and the use of eClaims for teaching to facilitate deeper analysis of the use of these working arrangements and their equality impact.

Four commitments in UCEA's final offer

  • We expect HEIs to minimise the use of hourly-paid employment to situations which are genuinely unpredictable or where such arrangements are mutually agreeable to both parties. We recommend that HEIs have arrangements whereby contracts are reviewed for transfer to a fractional contract once an agreed hours threshold is exceeded. We would expect that staff moved from hourly-paid to fractional contracts as a result of such reviews would be assimilated to the appropriate pay spine point in line with local job evaluation procedures and associated pay and reward systems.
  • We expect that mechanisms exist for an individual who believes their hourly paid engagement does not provide fair terms for the work expected of them to have such a concern examined.
  • We expect that when duties associated with supporting students’ learning are being offered to an institution’s doctoral students, individuals will be given clarity as to the work required and the remuneration for the work they perform, including where this constitutes part of a stipendiary arrangement.
  • We expect institutions to have arrangements to pro-actively identify staff who have held a fixed term contract or succession of fixed-term contracts which taken together meet the statutory threshold of 4 years for conversion to ongoing employment. We also recommend that institutions develop policies which seek to avoid an individual, unless to the parties’ mutual benefit, being issued with a succession of fixed-term contracts.
  1. The University and UCU recognise the importance, set out in the 2030 Strategy, of providing everyone with the opportunity to be involved in the discussions about issues that affect us.
  2. Applying our values of inclusion, community and respect, the University will work towards developing an environment in our new academic and Professional Services structures, of open, participatory and respectful communication which enables voices from all parts of the University workforce to be heard.