Universities’ spending on staff reaches record low

While universities’ income increased from 2015/16, the proportion of expenditure on university staff dropped to a record low

While UK universities’ income increased by £915m (2.7%) between 2015/16 and 2016/17, the proportion of expenditure on university staff dropped to a record low of 52.9%, according to figures published by the the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on Thursday.

The data also shows increases in universities’ reserves, which are up to £44.27bn from £12.33bn in 2009/10. Between 2015/16 and 2016/17, they accrued a surplus of £2.3bn, equal to 6.4% of income.

The percentage of expenditure spent on university staff has decreased by 6.54% in the past seven years, while percentage spent on capital expenditure is risen by 34.9% during that time.

In a statement, the UCU said that these figures “made a mockery of universities’ claims that staff were a top priority.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “With capital expenditure shooting up and staff costs down to a new low, it is clear that universities are prioritising investment in buildings over their staff. This makes a mockery of claims that staff are a top priority and also suggests they ignore what students say they want.

“While universities’ income rises and they hoard huge reserves, it seems the only people to benefit are vice-chancellors whose pay and perks have long been a source of embarrassment for higher education. The time has come to address the fall in staff pay and we hope the universities will respond positively at next month’s pay talks.”

The latest financial statements for Oxford University show the university’s income at £1.4 billion, with staff costs representing 51% of university expenditure for 2016/17. This figure is 2.9% below the national average released by HESA.

A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “It is a key priority of the university to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive workplace that enables everyone to develop and do their best work here.

“Our spending towards staff recruitment and development include, for example: expanding the support for staff who have family and caring responsibilities and launching the Allies and LGBT+ Role Model programmes to build on our work as Stonewall Diversity Champions to promote LGBT+ equality within the University.

“In addition, spending goes towards using the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund to support the implementation of a number of projects, including a project to diversify portraiture in the University’s public spaces and the Returning Carers’ Fund, which makes grants to researchers and academics to support their return to research following a period of leave for caring purposes.”

The spokesperson confirmed that staff costs increased by 5% compared to 2015/16 spending.