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What do we know about spending on staff?

  • 15 February 2019

Last week HEPI wrote for the first time on the issue of university pensions, looking back at the history of the USS. As part of our commitment to welcoming debate, we invited UCU to respond to the report; you can read Matt Waddup’s blog here.

One area highlighted by Matt in his response was spending on staff:

What might be more fruitful to explore is why spending on staff has increased more slowly than in other areas. Not least since most surveys show that this is an area that students want prioritised.’

We would agree with this, although would argue it is fruitful to explore both areas. In fact, we have published the most comprehensive data on student’s views on how their fees should be spent, through the HEPI/AdvanceHE annual Student Academic Experience Survey. As Matt says, the data show students are supportive of spending on staff, with spending on teaching staff being identified as second in importance only to spending on teaching facilities. It is worth noting however, that this support does not apply equally across as all staff; spending on research staff is half as important to students, at 30%. Spending on management only has 20% support, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ongoing headlines over vice-chancellors’ pay. 

Students’ responses to last year’s strikes were mixed. Many, including the NUS, supported the lecturers striking, but there was also frustration expressed and calls for compensation to account for lost teaching time. This is something we’ll be exploring for the first time in the 2019 Student Academic Experience Survey. The answer options above will be split to still ask about spending on staff, but also explicitly on staff pensions (with separate options for teaching, research and management staff). This new data will provide an evidence base to understand where spending on staff pensions sits among spending student’s priorities for the spending of their fees. The results will be launched at the HEPI Annual Conferencelater this year.  

While we know what students think on this, and many other issues, there is a gap in understanding the views of staff. Staff surveys are conducted within universities, but the results are not made publicly available, leaving a significant gap in the evidence base on staff views. Without asking about the experience of staff working within universities, we cannot understand the higher education sector holistically. We will be exploring the lack of data on staff in more detail in a HEPI paper on wellbeing in higher education and, hopefully, in other work too – look out for that to follow later this year. 

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