Response to the Vice-Chancellor’s Announcement of a One-off Payment

Given the scale of the cost of living crisis, we welcome the announcement on 7 June of a one-off payment that many – but not all – of our colleagues at Oxford will receive. The payment is an implicit admission that many of you employed at a world-leading university are facing financial difficulties. This is because, even before the current crisis, your pay has not kept up with inflation and your pension (if you have one) has been cut.

You and your colleagues regularly work well in excess of your contractual duties. Across the UK, keeping universities going during the pandemic was only possible because you and your colleagues made significant sacrifices. In return for this, in national pay negotiations, universities across the country – including Oxford – have repeatedly refused to make sure that your pay keeps up with inflation. This year is no different. Employers have made a final offer of a 3% uplift in the same month that the annualised rate of inflation reached 11.1%. We hope that today’s announcement is a sign of growing recognition that this is derisory and unacceptable.

You and your colleagues deserve a pay rise. This one-off payment is not sufficient: as the Vice-Chancellor acknowledges in her email, it will not fully mitigate past and current changes. Even when the one-off payment is taken into account, you will receive lower real-terms pay this year than last. The payment announced today is a symptom of the underlying problem: you are not being paid fairly.

We would like to see the University make better use of its unique position and leverage to ensure a fairer lasting outcome in the national pay negotiations for all staff in UK higher education.

We also have concerns that the two-tier system at Oxford will mean that many talented and dedicated staff will not receive the payment. Colleagues precariously employed on casual contracts who have averaged less than 0.2 FTE – including those who together do much of the teaching at the University – will receive no payment at all. If you are employed on a casual contract and are eligible for the payment, you will likely receive a lower payment than staff on other contract types. If you are employed on a term-time only contract you are likely to miss the payment if your contract finishes at the end of June. We hope that the University reconsiders these terms and takes the opportunity to recognise that all staff at the University make a valuable contribution and that precariously employed staff are the first to be priced out of the city by the cost of living crisis.

Meanwhile, college-only staff will not receive the payment announced today. We await further information from individual colleges and/or the Conference of Colleges about whether they plan to match the payment.

Fair Pay for College Teaching

The Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network is today launching a petition calling for improved pay and conditions for hourly-paid and stipendiary College teaching staff.

The petition is addressed to the current chair and co-chair of Conference of Colleges (the Oxford Colleges’ “forum”) and the 39 college senior tutors. It outlines three demands:

  1. A pay rise
  2. Clear contracts and transparent recruitment processes
  3. Paid training for all postgraduates who teach

The basic rate of pay for a 1-1 tutorial increased by 41p between 2020-21 and 2021-22, from £27.65 to £28.06. The payment for a 2-1 tutorial increased from £34.56 to £35.08. These rates include payment for preparation, marking, and administration. With these duties factored in, the rate of hourly pay for tutors often falls well below the Oxford Living Wage of £10.31. We should be clear about what this means: Oxford’s “world leading” teaching provision is based on systematic wage theft by institutions with a combined wealth of nearly £6bn

Stipendiary lecturers play a vital role in teaching, pastoral care, and admissions; they are equally vital to the research culture of their subject areas. But insecurity, exploitative nine-month contracts, and poor pay are all too familiar in these roles. Conference of Colleges’ Register of Approved Payments states that stipendiary lecturers are paid on a salary scale “based on Grade 5 of the University’s salary scale structure.” Academic roles in the central University start at grade 6 and departmental lecturers are usually employed at grades 7 and 8. It’s clear that both hourly-paid tutors and stipendiary lecturers are long overdue a pay rise.

In December 2021, the Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network and Oxford Brookes UCU collected testimonies from casualised and precarious staff across both universities. The testimonies from PGRs and College teaching staff show how detrimental these roles are to career progression and mental and physical health, and how they entrench inequalities:  

I am a recent PhD graduate with five different casual teaching contracts. Casualised contracts mean that I have had to move back in with my parents aged 30 because I cannot afford rent and have no means of securing a housing contract since my contracts are so short-term and much of my work is just word-of-mouth [and] hourly paid. Although I make less than £15,000 a year, I have 12-20 contact hours per week in term time, have spent ~30 hours on admissions (which is listed as a necessary and therefore unpaid duty in my 2-hour a week stipendiary contract) alongside a (casualised!) 7 hour a week admin contract, so I am frequently exhausted and suffering from both mental burnout and (clinical) physical fatigue. I suffer from muscle weakness, insomnia, palpitations and migraines from the stress.

I moved from a faculty post into a college, and then back into a faculty. Meanwhile I taught for another faculty, for a decade. I wasn’t issued a contract for the sessional classes. When I fell pregnant, mid-job move, the sessional classes would have shown continuity of employment by the university. But because they never issued me with a contract, they didn’t, and my maternity pay was withheld. The federalised structure [of Oxford University] meant my career didn’t count.

One myth is that [casualised teaching contracts] are for bright PhD students getting their foot on the career ladder… . In reality there are many colleagues on these contracts who have been doing their jobs for years – and are relied on to take the work as they will do a good job without needing any support. The framing of these jobs as career development opportunities for which young researchers ought to be grateful therefore ignores the contributions of experienced lecturers and their need for secure and dignified contracts…

I am a…PhD student…and I am paid to teach undergraduates by my college…via a “development scholarship”, which means that I am legally not employed by the college…. I do not have basic workers’ rights such as paid holiday or holiday pay, sick pay, ability to have a workplace pension… I also have no protection if the college decides to stop my “scholarship” for any reason…

The petition also draws inspiration from the Cambridge UCU’s #Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign, which has recently received coverage in the national press. As at Cambridge, our campaign highlights the lack of union representation for workers in the collegiate university. While the central University recognises trades unions, Oxford’s constituent colleges do not. Earlier this year, Oxford UCU narrowly missed the threshold to take part in the latest rounds of USS and Four Fights industrial action. College-only staff—some of our most precarious and exploited members—weren’t eligible to take part in the ballot and would not have been able to participate in industrial action had we reached the threshold.

The petition is here. A solidarity position for students, staff, and alumni is here.

Tutor Pay and Contracts at the Department for Continuing Education

Notes from an open meeting for tutors held on Monday 14 February 2022

Oxford UCU has organised a second open meeting at 1pm on Monday 14 March to report on outcomes from the meeting with ContEd management and to consider next steps. All ContEd tutors are encouraged to register and join the discussion.

Mikal Mast, Oxford UCU caseworker coordinator, welcomed participants and explained the purpose of the meeting, noting that Oxford UCU has become aware of various issues around pay and contracts through casework and the activities of the anti-casualisation network (organised by Tom White). These issues are common across colleges and the University, but seem especially widespread at the Department for Continuing Education, which is why a meeting with tutors was arranged to provide the opportunity to share experiences and plan further action. Department administrators reached out to UCU to discuss working together with UCU to make progress on these issues, and UCU representatives arranged a meeting with them to explore options.

University contract types

In a 2021 update of a UCU report on Precarious Work in Higher Education, UCU set out a position on zero-hours contracts, noting in particular that “Everyone should have the right to a contract that guarantees the hours they work”.

The University HR website on employment status does not use the term zero hour contracts, although a range of casual contracts might meet this definition (occasional lecturers, casual workers, casual teaching). Variable hours contracts certainly meet the definition, in that there is no obligation for the employer to offer work, nor for the worker to accept work. On the other hand, unlike the other casual contracts, variable hours CAN be permanent CMS contracts (CMS refers to ‘Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford’, which are University employee contracts).

ContEd participants emphasised that under their contracts they are not considered to be University employees. Tutors are on a range of casual contracts, depending on the type of work they are contracted to do, and they noted that their contracts are explicitly called ‘zero-hours’ contracts. 

Some are on consultancy contracts, others have contracts for services, others are on several types of contracts simultaneously (or even working for several universities), and some are still considered self-employed – which caused additional difficulty during Covid because they were not eligible for furlough while at the same time blocked from accessing government self employment support grants.

The problems facing ContEd tutors are not just restricted to precarious contracts – their contractual situation leads directly to another major workplace problem – low pay.

Issues regarding part-time tutor pay

Amount that tutors are paid

ContEd recently reduced the hourly teaching rate for face-to-face tutors from £35ph to £23.18ph, a drop of 34%. At the same time, they have for the first time acknowledged at least some of the hours that tutors spend preparing and reporting, and agreed to pay 4 hours for every 2 hours taught. This means that there is an overall increase in the amount of pay received for a 10-week course. However, tutors have been doing hours of unpaid preparation for years; this new arrangement looks like “giving with one hand whilst taking with the other”.

Weekly, WOW and summer school courses now pay 2 hours for submitting a proposal for a new course. Again, this is far below the amount of time actually required for preparing a proposal, let alone preparing for 20 hours of teaching, and leaves designing the course effectively unremunerated. Award-bearing courses do not pay at all for preparing course proposals.

The University of Oxford claims that it pays all its staff the Oxford Living Wage (OLW, going up to £10.50ph in April), and after quite a bit of pressure, ContEd began to pay tutors the OLW for marking three years ago, based on the notion that it takes half an hour to mark and administer a 500-word script. (Many tutors agree that in fact it often takes far longer than this, but ContEd has refused to canvas tutors to find out.) For MSc essays it appears that ContEd expects tutors to mark at double that rate: 1,000 words in half an hour.

ContEd have been asked why marking is paid at Grade 1, rather than Grade 7.8, which is what teaching payments have now been linked to, but have declined to answer.

Delays in paying tutors

In one example, for 10-week on-line and face-to-face classes, marking is not paid until after the end of term. So this term, for example, marking completed in early March will not be paid until the end of May.

Holiday pay is paid separately, and not until after the end of the 10-week term: so for teaching done in January, the holiday pay element of the hourly rate will not be paid until the end of April.

Mistakes in paying tutors

In December 2021, it came to light that all on-line tutors had been underpaid (by about £130 each, or 12%) in the Michaelmas term, and were about to be underpaid again in the Hilary term. When ContEd admin was alerted to this by a tutor, it was blamed on a “database error”. No apology was offered and no explanation of how this could be avoided in future given (despite this question being asked in an on-line tutor meeting on 9 February 2022).

This is not the first time that tutors have been underpaid.

The opacity of payslips

Payments appear on tutors’ payslips without proper explanation, which makes it very difficult for tutors to check that they have been paid correctly. As a result, many don’t check their payslips – or if they do, they give up trying to untangle them – and this allows the underpayments mentioned earlier to go unnoticed.

At a recent on-line tutors’ meeting this issue – the lack of transparency in payslips – was raised; an administrator said that this was a central University issue, and that she had been asking for it to be resolved for almost 20 years. However, no reasons for why payslips can’t be made more user-friendly were offered. Tutors with access to the VPN can check their payslips on-line, but these are simply electronic versions of the paper ones. Another administrator reported that she has details of every payment made and that tutors could always contact her for an explanation. If this information is apparently available within ContEd, why can’t it be made available to tutors routinely?

Campaign to improve contracts for Creative Writing tutors

Since 2018, tutors for the MSt in Creative Writing have been campaigning against the department’s use of casualised contracts and for improved pay. Rebecca Abrams described how their campaign began with an open letter signed by more than twenty creative writing tutors. In 2019, having received no response from the department, the tutors contacted the Society of Authors to assist with and support their campaign. Rebecca also noted the campaign by short course tutors at Goldsmiths, who mounted a successful legal challenge against their classification as ‘independent contractors’. Their reclassification as workers means they are now entitled to certain employment rights: being paid at least the National Minimum Wage, the right to union representation, paid holiday and protection against unlawful discrimination and against unlawful deductions from their wages.

The creative writing tutors met with ContEd’s finance and HR directors in December 2019. However, with the onset of the pandemic, these discussions were paused by the department until December 2021. In a meeting in January 2022, ContEd proposed a new arrangement for creative writing tutors: ‘Departmental Lecturer’ roles with either fixed or variable hours and an option for freelance contracts with payment rates negotiated between the department and the tutor. The details of the proposed new contracts are still under negotiation. We understand that this arrangement may be extended to other tutor groups.

Supporting Striking Colleagues in the Four Fights and USS Disputes

Motion formally passed at an Oxford UCU General Meeting on 8 February 2022

UCU is currently in dispute with employers to prevent the further erosion of our pay and working conditions and to fight for equality (Four Fights), and to protect our USS pensions against severe cuts.

Colleagues at 68 institutions across the country, including Oxford Brookes, will begin the next round of strikes from Monday 14th February (for USS) and Monday 21st February (for Four Fights).

Employees of the University of Oxford are currently prevented from taking industrial action by the Trade Union Act 2016 because, despite over 75% of votes being in favour of industrial action, the branch narrowly missed the threshold to take action during the recent ballots. UCU has a national Fighting Fund which is used to compensate members for pay withheld during industrial action.

To support our colleagues across the country who will be taking industrial action in the coming weeks and to ensure a positive outcome from the disputes, Oxford UCU is:

  1. making a donation of £1000 to the UCU Fighting Fund, and
  2. encouraging those members who are able to make personal donations to the UCU
    Fighting Fund.

College stipendiary pay: Some suggestions for improvement

College stipendiary lecturers play a vital role in teaching, pastoral care, and admissions; they are equally vital to the research culture of their subject areas. The insecurity and poor pay associated with these roles is often justified by colleges and some senior academics on the basis that they are a way for early career academics to gain experience prior to their first permanent position. This has long been a dubious justification, to say the least, and it rings increasingly hollow in the context of the entrenched precarity faced by academic workers in Oxford and beyond.

Stipendiary lecturers constitute a group of workers on which the University’s day-to-day functioning depends and on whose research expertise it capitalises, but who do not necessarily receive the benefits and entitlements of their permanent colleagues (statutory sick leave, parental leave, protection against unfair dismissal) and who are especially vulnerable to exploitation within Oxford’s decentralised system. In particular, many stipendiary lecturers experience a significant disconnect between their notional hours of employment and the actual hours of work their role demands. 

This blog post highlights a particular issue regarding pay that many stipendiary lectures might not be aware of or might not feel able to raise with their line manager. If you think you are affected by this issue, then 1. speak to your colleagues in your college and in your subject area/faculty, 2. contact us on Oxford colleges do not recognise trade unions. While this means UCU cannot collectively bargain with colleges, we can and frequently do offer guidance and support to members who are employed on college-only contracts. If you are a college-only employee and would like to join UCU, then visit, or get in touch with the Oxford UCU branch.

Stint reform and stipendiary pay

The pay scale for stipendiary lecturers is set by the Conference of Colleges. This body comprises two representatives of each college and acts as a forum for discussion amongst the Oxford colleges and as a channel between the colleges and the central University. The Conference of College’s ‘Register of Approved Payments’ are available to download from the OxCORT homepage ( The recommended scale for 2020-1 is below:

Beneath the pay scale is an additional paragraph:

The division of the scale into 12 hours reflects the original 12-hour stint of a CUF [College and University Fellowship] Lecturer (before the advent of stint reform); thus the ‘6-hour’ line (the line for a ‘50%’ Stipendiary Lecturer) applies to the full 6-hour stint of a ULTF. The standard full-time CUF Lecturer stint is now 8 contact hours. It may therefore be more helpful to use the percentage of a full-time stint required of a Stipendiary Lecturer to determine which line of this scale to employ (e.g. the 6-hour line would represent 50% of a full-time stint for a CUF Lecturer), though this is a matter for individual college discretion.

This is not an easy paragraph to follow, even for those acquainted with Oxford’s employment practices and acronyms, but it highlights a significant point of concern: stipendiary pay is still based on a 12-hour scale, even though the University’s stint reform means that a full-time tutorial fellow role is now constituted by 8 hours of contact time per week.

According to this scale, a stipendiary lecturer working on a six-hour contract is still classed as doing 50% of a standard permanent post, rather than 75%. This means, for example, that a stipendiary lecturer working on an 8-hour contract on stage 1 earns £18,341 when they should be earning £27,711 for 12 weighted hours (as equivalent to 8 contact hours). In effect, they are only being paid for two-thirds of the work they undertake. There are some stipendiary lectureship advertisements which specify weighted hours, but many do not and the consequences for pay of this reform are not made clear to all stipendiary lecturers. After all, colleges are only advised to observe payment in weighted hours. Many stipendiary lectureships—already an insecure and exploitative form of work—are significantly underpaid even on their own terms. ‘It may therefore be more helpful [for stipendiary lecturers]’ for colleges to observe weighted hours, the final sentence of the above paragraph begins. Very ‘helpful’ indeed!

Two suggestions for improvement:

1.         Require colleges to observe weighted hours in the appointment of stipendiary lecturers. A document explaining how weighted hours are calculated should be circulated among all incoming stipendiary lecturers in order to ensure that they are fully apprised of the conditions of their employment.

Or, even better: 

2.         Require colleges to replace CUFs on temporary leave with a full-time employee (or the appropriate percentage thereof, in the case of CUFs on part-time contracts). Exemptions may be issued in specific circumstances, but a persuasive rationale must be offered as to why an exception should be made, given that stipendiary lecturers are expected to play an active part in college life (including the provision of pastoral care), to take the initiative in access and outreach work, and to continue with their research (on which their teaching expertise in part depends, but for which they are not remunerated).            

Some HE pay myths de-bunked

Myth 1:
The UCU demand of a 7.5% pay rise is completely unreasonable

HE sector 7.5_ raise vs public sector pay

Even IF our demand of a 7.5% pay rise was met – the wages in HE
would still be lower than other public sector wages

Myth 2:
But… surely, compared to all wages nationwide…?

HE, public sector, inflation adjusted wages from 2009

Nope. Wages in HE are still not looking good.
We are still more than 5% behind.

Myth 3:
Staff costs are increasing anyway. We can’t add an extra 7.5% on that

HE sector 7._ raise in staff costs

Actually, staff costs in HE are on the decline. If our demand for a 7.5% pay rise went through, staff costs would be about where they used to be ten years ago,
in relation to university income.

Myth 4:
But, talking about university income: There is no money in HE. Universities simply can’t afford higher pay rises


…Shall we start with the £2.5 billion surplus?

It’s all about priorities!

With spending on buildings rising, university surpluses increasing and ever higher salaries at the top, UCU believes that the employers have their priorities badly wrong.

This is why UCU a submitted a pay claim based on the principle of ‘keep up and catch up’, involving an increase of 7.5% or £1500 (whichever is greater).

It is staff who make a university what it is, and those who teach, research or work in professional services like libraries, IT or admin, deserve fair pay.


With thanks to Was and the Cambridge UCU GTVO team
for making the charts.

Let’s talk about pay

HE wages lag far behind the national average, and even behind public sector pay. Since 2009, our salaries have failed to keep pace with inflation. An annual pay increase 1% below RPI here, a year of pay freeze there – it didn’t seem much at the time. But it adds up – over the past ten years, the cumulative loss to our real-term pay was no less than 21%.

Let that sink in. You should be earning more than one fifth more, just to earn the same as you did ten years ago.

(Unless, of course, your work now is worth 21% less than in 2009.)

In a time of tough austerity you may be told that the universities can’t afford a pay rise, but this simply isn’t true. In 2016/17 UK universities reported a record surplus of £2.27bn.

And let’s compare pay:

let's compare pay

Add to this injustice the growing scandal of precarious contracts in HE, and the exorbitant housing prices and living costs in Oxford, and the picture gets truly grim.

With spending on buildings rising, university surpluses increasing and ever higher salaries at the top, UCU believes that the employers have their priorities badly wrong. It is staff who make a university what it is, and those who teach, research or work in professional services like libraries, IT or admin, deserve fair pay.

This is why UCU a submitted a pay claim based on the principle of ‘keep up and catch up’, involving an increase of 7.5% or £1500 (whichever is greater).

Mind the Gap!

Female staff working for the University of Oxford earn on average 13.7% less than male staff. This means, for example, that:

  • male academics earned on average £7,626 more in 2016 than their female colleagues
  • effectively, women worked for free from 12th November 2018 to the end of the year

How lovely, given we are in the 21st century.

But sarcasm aside, lets talk gender pay gap more seriously, starting with:

What is the gender pay gap?
Legislation requires employers to report on the pay gap between men and women. The University of Oxford does so here. The 13.7% gender pay gap reported is the difference in the average (median) hourly rates paid to female and male staff.  (Unequal pay is a different type of inequality, where two people are doing the same job, or similar work, but do not receive the same pay.)


Why is there a gender pay gap at the University of Oxford?
One factor might be that women are more likely than men to be employed in lower paid roles: 65.1% of workers in the lowest pay quartile are female, whilst women constitute only 37.2% of the highest pay quartile. Casualisation contributes to this gap for academic, research, teaching and professional staff.

So, how can we close the gap?
The University of Oxford is rightly taking some steps to increase the proportion of female staff in senior and highly paid roles. However, this alone is unlikely to be enough: other HE institutions with a more equal gender pay balance in the most senior roles still have overall pay gaps.

Tackling pay inequality requires a genuine commitment to improving the pay and working conditions of female staff within Oxford University, across all departments, job descriptions and pay grades.

The 2018 pay and equality claim seeks a sectoral commitment to close the gender pay gap by 2020. You can find  more information on the gender pay gap, and on how UCU is campaigning for pay equality, here


Dear University of Oxford: Mentoring programmes, nursery places, and Athena SWAN awards are wonderful, no doubt. But until the effects of those fully kick in on the gender pay gap front, how about an interim solution? It works elsewhere:

Just an idea.