One report suggests that university academics have “more generous” working conditions in many areas than professionals in other fields.
According to the paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, academics have a number of job-related benefits – particularly around their access to pensions, sick pay, annual leave and sabbaticals.
It comes as a marking and assessment boycott by members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 145 universities across the UK in an ongoing dispute over staff pay and conditions.
University employees went on several strikes in February and March in two separate disputes – one over pension and the other over pay and working conditions.
Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said academics “compared well to those in other professions” in areas linked to industrial action.
The paper shows that the benefits of pension schemes for academics are “well above the UK average”, with an employer contribution rate of 21.6% for the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), compared to an average employer pension contribution of 5%.
It adds that, on average, academics are entitled to sick pay that is 13 times “more generous” than the statutory minimum.
The think tank commissioned SUMS Consulting to conduct a comparative study of the benefits offered by the institutions to academics and the analysis took place between October and December 2022.
The study also highlights areas where the higher education sector lags behind other industries – such as the increased use of fixed term and contingent contracts.
The report notes that only two-thirds (67%) of academics are in permanent employment, compared to 94% in the labor market.
Mr Hillman said: “We are living through many years of industrial action in the higher education sector without secure evidence as to whether academics have relatively good or comparatively poor terms and conditions.
“The results show a nuanced picture. On the areas most linked to recent industrial action – salaries and pensions – academics compared well to other occupations.
“The generous professional pension schemes that disappeared years ago for most employees in the private and charitable sectors remain the norm in academia.”
But he said academics “scored poorly” on wellbeing and mental health, and it could be “harder” for new academics to find secure and permanent contracts than for workers in other sectors.
Mr Hillman said: “Both sides of the recent – and current – industrial disputes in higher education would do well to reflect on what more can be done now to tackle uncertainty in higher education.
“Based on this research, it appears to be a more urgent priority than, for example, protecting gold-plated pensions against all change in perpetuity.”
The paper benchmarks different types of pay and academics benefits based on different drivers of “good work” as defined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
UCU general secretary Joe Grady said: “University staff salaries have fallen 25% below inflation, with tens of thousands living on insecure contracts and half showing possible signs of depression due to overwork. This highly suggestive Rich in giving that they are living it up compared to other workers.
“Every employment benefit university staff are able to enjoy has been won, not taken for granted, and trade unions will not engage in a race to the bottom that pits one set of workers against another.
“No matter the sector, all workers deserve decent sick pay, conditions and a pension that allows them to retire without facing poverty.
“The employment situation in higher education in the UK continues to deteriorate and vice-chancellors have allowed this to happen.”