Money, Money, Money…
The recent 3-day strike over university teachers’ pay has begun a new debate over why women are not paid as much as men, is there real equality within university pay, and pen- sion-related issues.
On December 1st I received a number of auto-emails in my inbox telling me that my messages wouldn’t be read by teachers on strike until after the 3rd December. The weekly language class I attend, however, went ahead as planned because my teacher has only recently joined King’s and has not had the time to join the Union. She has noted that un- less you are part of a Union, you are not allowed to strike. This is also true if your branch vote passes a 50% threshold.
Walking in the Strand area on Thursday, I did not see any protesters and the Maugham Library was less busy than usual. But picket signs were out on Wednesday and more ob- vious signs of protest were on social media. @KCL_UCU King’s tweeters express solidari- ty with those seeking to redress unfair gender and ethnicity pay gaps as well as recording the protests happening around other UK universities. Not all university institutions have taken part: 58 according to mainstream media.
Lest we forget, King’s is one of the richest of the UK’s higher education institutions. Amongst the top ten of most-endowed unis 5 of them are London-based. King’s is 9th on the list with an endowment of £16,835,000.1 One might ask the question, then, why a pay strike is needed? Why should there be a pay gap? What is the money spent on? Does it all go to Science and spanky new builds? And what exactly is an endowment?
Firstly, a university endowment supports ‘the teaching, research, and public service mis- sions of colleges and universities’.2 It is made up of charitable donations and assets. For the financial year 2019-2020, King’s received £16.8 million in donations and endowments. Marcus Aurelius ‘established the first recorded endowment for the major schools of phi- losophy in Athens circa 176 AD.’3 In the UK, endowments made by Henry VIII are still ac- tive today at Oxford and Cambridge.4
Secondly, all financial matters are controlled by the Council, which dates back to 1829 when King’s was founded. There is also an Academic Board made up of staff and stu- dents that has a voice at the Council. In the Council’s last financial report it notes that the current Academic Board ‘recommends major academic policy changes to the Council’.5 It does not say what these changes are or whether they will be addressed.
According to the Council’s 2020 figures and stats, 60% of staff at King’s are women, its workforce is described as ‘very diverse’. For 2020 ‘the overall gender pay gap has re- duced further to 17.1%, dropping 0.7% from the 2019 figure of 17.8%’.6 The Ethnicity Pay Gap is larger at 20%. These issues are addressed by a specific body, the EDI strate- gy as well as the Race Equality Action Plan. There are many initiatives and schemes, too, which are aimed at encouraging diversity and fighting racism.
The Council’s last financial report of 2019-2020, which includes part of multiple Covid lockdowns, details staff costs at £562,744, which makes up 57% of the University’s total expenditure.7 Around c.£9m was also spent on rehousing and supporting students. Total University expenditure came to £868079.8
The document is a long, dry read, but shows the transparency of the University’s financial procedures. It highlights King’s overall income at £614m, 45% of which is generated from tuition fees. The income is dramatically larger than its expenditure. HE institutions, we must remember, have become businesses. This is partly to attract investors due to lack of government funding, partly because they can and do make money.
On the subject of pensions, The Council predicts it will continue to be a difficult issue:
‘In terms of risk, over the next year or so we see the main remaining financial threats as being pay related. Whilst King’s has excellent and valued relations with its committed staff, there are a number of external challenges that will arise during the next few years around the cost of living together with the significant challenges faced by defined benefit pension schemes.’
The University participates in two schemes. These include the Universities Superannua- tion Scheme (USS) and the Superannuation Arrangements for the University of London (SAUL). It also contributes to the Department of Health’s NHS Pension Scheme (NHSPH). There is ‘significant uncertainty’ over the funding position and contribution for the USS:
King’s continues to be committed to seeking a sustainable funding solution for this, the largest pension scheme in contribution terms.9
The issues with USS are at the heart of the wider university strike. Internal divisions within the UCU (University and College Union) are part of the reason that potential changes to the scheme are being held up.
Will the 3-day strike elicit change in the gender pay gap?
It is clear that The Council believes pensions to be the trickiest of issues in the debate. For detailed analysis by The Council on King’s financial matters please read their annual report: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/about/assets/pdf/statements/2019-2020-financial-state- ment.pdf
1 These figures vary according to different websites. This figure according to https://thetab.com/ uk/2021/07/16/these-are-the-25-most-well-endowed-universities-in-the-country-215400
7 This information according to the latest King’s financial report: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/about/as-