As chair of my Uni’s Green society, I’ve been running the ‘Make Leeds Met’s Pay Fairer’ campaign for a while now. To recap, the campaign is the spinoff of the ‘Fair Pay Campus’ campaign; asking Leeds Metropolitan University (my university) to pay their agency staff the Living Wage of £7.45 an hour. The campaign also asks for the Uni to reduce their high pay ratio . Currently my university’s pay ratio (the gap between the highest-and lowest- paid staff) is 18:1 though other public bodies, such as the army, and hospitals have pay ratios of 10:1.
Why the campaign is perfect for Universities
1) It exposes University hypocrisy. Universities are brilliant at appearing ethical. For instance, the University mega group Million+ states in its 2012 Annual statement that it aims to:
“…champion the contribution of universities, students and graduates to a fairer Britain and a more innovative global economy, through evidence based policy and research”.
On its homepage, my University says it is a “People university….a not for profit University with the charitable purpose of advancing education for the public benefit”. And just last week my university launched the Centre for Applied Social Research which aims to “enact social change for the better through high quality research”. I’ve been in Higher Education for 6 years, and have worked (ok studied) in four different Universities. The majority of academics I have met are liberal and progressive people. They do research into things like sexual violence, peace and conflict and unfair working conditions. For instance, my University has Professor Colin Webster who has documented the ‘low pay no pay’ cycle that the poorest face in Britain. He, like many others in universities, gets inequality. They’re just not great at doing anything about it. This campaign can (start to) change that.
2) Universities are public bodies funded by public money. Most of Universities’ money comes from tuition fees and HEFCE grants (aka taxes). Students, staff and the community should know about and (more importantly) decide where their money goes. As public bodies it is our money that is being spent (or more often misspent!).
3) Universities love research and they love policy that is based on it. The Fair Pay Campus campaign is just that. The Living Wage is calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy and the problems of high pay ratios are documented extensively by Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s research.
Some things I wish I had known beforehand:
1) Know and rebut your counter arguments. Income taxes reduce pay ratios. This stumped me. But other types of taxes (VAT) increase pay ratios (meaning the net effect of taxes on pay ratios is neutral). In any campaign it is critical to understand the counter arguments.
2) Do the work for them. People are busy and their time is over-stretched. Explain clearly, simply and engagingly what the campaign is, why it’s important and what people can do about it.
3) Exploit your opportunities. My Uni recently launched the Centre for Applied Social Research which aims to do good quality research that benefits society. The Fair Pay campaign is just that. Which meant getting staff to sign petitions was easy. You could also write for your student paper and beg a high-profile academic/politician to launch the campaign.
Finally, some problems with the campaign:
- First, the Living Wage (£7.45) is a step up from the minimum wage (£6.19) but it’s not a massive raise. And in some individual’s cases a slight pay increase to the Living Wage may not be better if it means they can no longer claim benefits.
- Secondly, agency staff face other MAJOR problems (i.e., only receiving measly statutory sick pay and having no guaranteed hours) which the campaign doesn’t deal with. In fact, because the University has to pay an overhead price to the agency, it may be more economical and fairer if the University scrapped agency staff and employed them in-house.
- High pay ratios and poor wages are a national problem not exclusive to Universities. The campaign could be applied to the public and even the private sector. Fittingly, Islington council have recently dropped its pay ratio with Chief Exec, Susan Leary, receiving £50,000 less pay than her predecessor.
- Universities have ethical issues beyond their pay. Commodified learning, deals with arms dealers, selling Nestle and sweatshop made clothes etc also need to be tackled.
Sorting out our University pay is one step in the right direction, then. But it’s not the only step we have to take.
Glen Jankowski, Leeds Met Young Greens