What is the UCU Rising dispute about?

What’s the problem?

Higher education staff worked intensively through the pandemic at the expense of our health and wellbeing. We have generated a record income for the sector (£41 billion in 2020/21). Yet we face relentless attacks on our pay and working conditions.

University Vice-Chancellors take home eye-watering salaries while their staff struggle to cover the bills with falling pay and insecure contracts. Our workloads are unbearable, and pay gaps for PoC, disabled and women staff remain entrenched.

Senior leaders still refuse to take action to pay us fairly, safeguard our jobs and priortise our wellbeing. Vice-Chancellors are more concerned with buildings than caring for their staff – planning to increase capital spending by £4.6bn this year, while only spending a £600m more on staff.






Since 2009, average pay in HE has dropped in real terms by 25%. This year university bosses have tabled a 3% pay offer at a time when inflation has hit 12.3% (RPI) and is predicted to keep rising. This is a brutal real-terms pay cut while Kingston staff already struggle to manage rising bills, housing, food and travel costs.


UCU’s HE pay modeller shows what earnings would be if salaries had risen with inflation. Meanwhile Vice-Chancellors earn at least 10 x their average employee. In 2021 Kingston’s Vice-Chancellor was paid £352,000 (100x more than some of his hourly-paid staff) and 7 members of our senior leadership team paid themselves more than £140,000.


Higher Education staff work far more hours than they are paid for. Nationally, the average working week is 51.3 hours – that’s 2 days of unpaid work each week. A 2021 workload report revealed 79% staff have to work intensively always or often, and half showed probable signs of depression.


At Kingston restructurings, redundancies, recruitment freezes and budget cuts have seen workloads intensify to the point of damaging staff health. 52% of Kingston staff can’t say the university does enough to support their health and wellbeing.



Nationally, the pay gap between Black and white staff stands at 17% and the disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap stands at 16% and at won’t be closed for another 22 years. Of 22,810 professors, only 1% are Black.

In 2021 Kingston reported a 12.9% ethnicity pay gap and an 8% disability pay gap. BAME staff remain over-represented in lower grade roles and under-represented in senior ones. Black staff are treated particularly unequally, with the lowest mean hourly rate £5.68 per hour less than white staff. Disabled staff also remain over-represented in lower paid posts. In 2020, 58% of all disabled staff at Kingston earned less than £20 per hour.

Kingston prides itself that its 2021 median gender pay gap was 5.4% down from 8.7%  – but this isn’t progress, it’s the same gap we had in 2017. Senior positions remain disproportionately held by men. 60% of KU staff are women, yet they make up 68% of the lowest paid jobs. Intersectionally, BAME women have the biggest hourly pay gap compared to white men, and are more likely to be on temporary hourly-paid contracts.


Casualisation in HE is at an all-time high, with 90,000 people – a third of academic staff – on some form of insecure contract, rising to almost half of teaching-only staff and 2/3 researchers. Staff on these contracts struggle to make ends meet and 71% report this insecurity has damaged their mental health. Not having the same rights as permanent colleagues leaves them vulnerable to abuse.

At Kingston, 43% of staff who teach are on hourly-paid (HPL) contracts, never knowing whether they’ll have work the following year. Until we fought for it to be lifted last year, a HPL conversion freeze left them stuck in this situation.

What’s the solution?

This is what the UCU is pushing for in negotiations with the UCEA:

  • A pay uplift of 12% or Retail Price Index (RPI) plus 2%.
  • A £12 per hour minimum wage.
  • An agreed framework to eliminate insecure work practices such as zero hours contracts and convert hourly-paid staff to permanent contracts.
  • Nationally agreed action to address dangerously high workloads.
  • A standard weekly full-time contract of employment of 35 hours per week
  • Meaningful agreed action, using an intersectional approach, to tackle the ethnic, gender and disability pay gaps.

See the March 2022 joint higher education unions claim and UCU Rising FAQs.

Kingston staff have had enough.

Industrial action is always a last resort. The conditions we face are unsustainable and threaten the future of higher education. It in the hands of the Universities & Colleges Employers Association UCEA) to prevent disruption by negotiating with us meaningfully and committing to real actions to address these issues.

Poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions. The National Union of Students (NUS) fully supports and stands in solidarity the UCU. NUS research revealed overwhelming levels of support for previous UCU strike action with 73% students saying they support university staff. In a Union of Kingston Students referendum in February 2022 82% of student voted in favour of supporting the UCU 4 Fights strike with a huge turnout of 1,286.

It’s not too late for the employers to reconsider their stance and seek a sustainable resolution to these issues. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘University vice-chancellors are deliberately choosing to make their staff poorer with vicious cuts to pensions and an insulting pay offer of just 3% whilst inflation continues to soar. University finances are in rude health and there is no doubt the sector can afford to do much better.

‘We urge vice-chancellors to put the sector first by addressing staff concerns and helping us to avoid industrial action.

Enough is Enough

UCU are not alone in standing up against attacks on pay and conditions. Working people across the country – rail workers, postal workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, port workers, lawyers, refuse collectors – are all saying Enough is Enough and fighting for fairer, safer conditions, and a real pay rise.