How does Imperial’s 2023-24 pay offer really compare with the national?

How much is Imperial’s pay offer really worth compared to UCEA’s? Less than you might expect.

Imperial College management claim that their 2023-24 pay offer is significantly better than the national pay offer from the University and College’s Employer’s Association (UCEA) 2023-24 offer to the institutes involved in national pay bargaining. Here we refute this claim.  

There is little doubt that Imperial is better off financially than the average UK university, as past surpluses confirm. In fact, it would be a source of embarrassment if we lagged behind given our deserved reputation for attracting research funding and students, a good proportion paying overseas fees. So, it is fair to ask how much more is Imperial’s 2023-24 pay offer worth compared to the UCEA offer, which, necessarily has to be affordable not just to the average UK university, but to those struggling financially.

We have used College’s figures to make a direct comparison between the two offers, applying the terms of both offers to the same distribution of staff pay at Imperial. By adding together the costs from each quantile of 250 staff, grouped in salary order, we can compare the overall cost of the two offers.

First, it is important to understand what each offer amounts to: UCEA’s gives an early payment in February and then tops that up to 5% in August. Imperial has an early payment in May, and then tops it up to the larger of 5.5% or £2500 in August.  Hence UCEA’s offer gives three months of extra payments compared to Imperial’s. To take that into account in a fair manner, we calculate the total cost of either offer from February 2023 to August 2024, when the next pay settlement is due. We also apply the terms of both offers to all staff. All UCEA members we are aware of have already started paying the February element of the offer to all staff, even though UCU nationally are in dispute over this.

In fact, the details of each offer tend to play off against each other’s – UCEA gives a smaller early payment but in February, not May, and, while Imperial is offering 0.5% more, it also has a maximum of £5000 while UCEA members are applying 5% across the board. Taking all of these effects into account, Imperial’s offer will cost it just 0.24% more than UCEA’s up to August 2024: while the Imperial offer is worth more than UCEA’s it hardly reflects the ability of Imperial to pay its staff more.

Finally, some of you may have noticed that Imperial is claiming its offer is worth on average 7.1%. That is quite a remarkable number considering the cost of the offer, according to College, is significantly less than that. In fact, that 7.1% figure has been calculated by combining the May increase as a lump sum, and then adding that to the 5.5% increase in August (plus a small error in weighting the lowest paid quantile that adds 0.1%). Apart from the error, this approach might be a valid calculation in comparing the Imperial offer to UCEA’s but it is not actually what the offer amounts to as a consolidated salary rise: it effectively inflates the 5.5% rise with a one-off payment.

Imperial’s management are trying to give the impression that their offer is worth significantly more than the 0.5% difference in the headline rate of 5.5% compared to UCEA’s 5.0%. In fact it will cost them 0.24%, slightly less than half of 0.5% more to implement compared to UCEA’s. Imperial can afford to do rather better than that.


Full calculations can be seen in this spreadsheet: ImperialvsUCEAOffersCompWeb

Why we are on strike

We are on strike to defend our pay.

With general inflation at around 10% for the last 2 years, and augmented hikes on everyday overheads such as food, energy bills, and housing, people and companies are feeling severe financial pressure.

If organisations do not proportionally increase their workers’ wages in line with the increased cost of living, then they become effectively poorer and less able to live their lives with dignity.

Imperial College conducts pay bargaining with its local Joint Trade Union (JTU) branches. Last year management’s imposition of a 3.3% pay offer without JTU agreement was simply too much for staff to bear: a 3% pay award with inflation at over 10% is essentially a 7% pay cut. The offer felt particularly callous as we moved out of the pandemic, where the labours of staff had been absolutely extraordinary, and the subject of near-universal internal and external praise. Members of all three trade unions voted to enter a formal dispute with the College in September 2022. Sadly, this dispute has not been resolved, and the problem has only become more pronounced.

Imperial is one of the wealthiest universities in the UK and can easily afford to protect its staff pay against the steep rises in the cost of living.  In this year’s pay award cycle, the JTU put in a pay claim of 10.5% – an amount which we clearly show is affordable by the College, and is only attempting to protect the value of staff pay against the current inflation rate.

Alas, Imperial is now imposing a pay award of 5.2% for this year, which, for the second year in a row, is going to make College staff significantly poorer in real terms.

Nobody wants industrial action. But the staff at Imperial College recognise that management are simply not listening to arguments based on logic and compassion. They are role playing in one of the worst aspects of end-stage capitalism and modern business development, viz. the marketisation of higher education, where staff are treated as a cost to be managed. We are in a position where we feel the only way management will listen is by the credible, and legal, threat of withdrawing our labour via forms of strike action.

Members of all three trade unions have voted for strike action over a shared dispute, for the first time in Imperial College’s rich and varied history.

The UCU have commenced their marking and assessment boycott (MAB) and there are 5 days of strike action declared during this term.

If we do not do this, the College will continue to erode the value of pay and conditions at Imperial. And we are not just doing this for to protect our pay this year, but for the more global and fundamental purpose of protecting our university from becoming yet another business, and ensuring the profession is one that aspiring academics will still want to join. This affects us all.

You can help by emailing the President and Provost of Imperial College and asking them to pay their staff fairly.

UCU and Unite members on the picket line, May 2023

Imperial UCU Industion Action May through July 2023

The Imperial UCU Branch is taking local action in two ways over the coming months. The first is through a series of strike days which will be joined by the Imperial Unite the Union branch.

We will be striking on the following days:

  • Thursday 25th May
  • Friday 26th May
  • Wednesday 28th June
  • Thursday 29th June
  • Friday 30th June
  • Thursday 6th July
  • Friday 7th July

The second action is that since 17 May, our branch has commenced a Marking and Assessment Boycott. This is separate from the national MAB which is related only to the UCEA pay negotiations. Imperial has local pay negotiations and does not take part in the UCEA pay negotiations. For further guidance on the Imperial MAB see our local guidance page.

April update on disputes

Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB)

Following the results of the national UCU consultation on the USS pensions proposal the proposed national Marking & Assessment Boycott (MAB) which was due to start on April 20th has been called OFF and Imperial UCU will NOT be commencing a MAB this week. Indeed, all forms of industrial action related to the USS pensions dispute are now on hold.

Note that, (a) the USS pensions dispute is still on, and the the union still has a mandate to take industrial action should discussions go awry, and, (b) many other institutions will still be commencing a MAB this week on the 4 Fights dispute (which Imperial aren’t part of).

Conditional on achieving a mandate on the local pay ballot we may commence a local MAB as part of the local pay dispute. Without going into further detail here the earliest this could possibly begin if it goes ahead is 4th May – of course we will communicate with members in good time about this. If you haven’t already done so please complete our survey to help us organise should we take this action.

More guidance on how to conduct a MAB will become available, but start with this guide from the UCU for a good overview of how it would work.

Update on the 2023-24 pay negotiations

Thank you to everyone who provided commentary on the College’s pay offer. The Joint Trade Unions pay negotiation team used members’ feedback to assist in assembling a detailed response which we sent to management yesterday. This should appear on the College pay award webpage within the next few days. Our next pay negotiation meeting is this Friday.

A summary of the pay negotations is available on our site.

All members’ meeting on Monday 24th April 1 – 2pm

We ask that all UCU members make the time to attend this meeting on Zoom next Monday. Later this week we will receive the results of our local ballot on the pay dispute; the precise content and focus of the meeting is conditional on the outcome so we’ll send a full agenda and Zoom link late on Friday. Either way however, the current pay negotiations will be the headline item. Please reply to this email or contact your local union rep if you have any items to include.

Items for the next College Health & Safety Committee meeting

The College main health & safety committee meets three times a year, and has representatives from all three trade unions attend. We are invited to submit agenda items in advance – we need to submit items from UCU in the next couple of weeks so we are asking members to respond with any possible items for consideration. Either reply to this message or contact your local union rep.

Comments on the national dispute

Several members have asked for some sort of branch comment, or further clarity on events regarding the national UCU disputes, especially regarding the fast moving updates from the week commencing 13 March. Vijay, our branch president has recorded the below video to try and give a balanced account for the benefit of Imperial UCU members. A PDF of the slides can be directly downloaded as well.

The video contains: a high level overview of the disputes – a comment on “the pause” in action from about March 2023 National Dispute Commentary three weeks ago – commentary on the USS pensions dispute and the relative merits of the current proposal/agreement with employers – reasons why voting in the reballot is essential – comments on the e-poll and the subsequent fallout from that – some information on what happens in the near future.

All staff meeting on the cost-of-living crisis at Imperial College

Zoom meeting details:
1-2pm, Monday 27 March
Meeting ID: 889 8228 7277

Passcode: 001328

Meeting summary:

The Joint Trades Unions (JTU) at Imperial College London invite all Imperial College staff to a Zoom meeting from 1 – 2pm on Monday 27th March to discuss the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on Imperial College staff and students. A survey of our members revealed some of the struggles staff across the College are facing and deepened our concerns. We have tried to impress the seriousness of the situation on senior management in meetings and in our 2023-24 pay claim:

Unfortunately, we do not believe management is taking these issues seriously enough. Despite submitting our claim over a month early, management continues to stall negotiations.

The JTU therefore believe it appropriate to call an all-staff meeting on the cost-of-living-crisis and the pay dispute as soon as possible. We invited President Hugh Brady to attend this meeting to hear his perspective and address staff concerns, however, although we offered him a range of dates, he has not replied. We will go ahead without him but he is welcome to join us should he wish to participate.

The purpose of the meeting will be to provide information on what has happened so far in relation to pay at Imperial College, followed by open discussion. In the second half of the meeting we will propose a motion aimed at impressing on management the importance of giving Imperial staff a fair pay deal in 2023-24, for debate and voting by all staff present.

March 2023 Strike Information

The strike dates for March 2023 are:

  • Wednesday 15th March
  • Thursday 16th March
  • Friday 17th March
  • Monday 20th March
  • Tuesday 21st March
  • Wednesday 22nd March

All of the above strike dates relate to the USS pension dispute. The 15th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd are also related to the local dispute on pay.

Imperial’s local Unite branch is also on strike on the 22nd over the local dispute on pay.

Rebuttal to the VP(Education)’s message to students on the strike

Imperial UCU were concerned that Professor Peter Haynes, the Vice Provost (Education & Student Experience)’s message to students regarding the ongoing industrial action contained some misleading and inaccurate statement. Herewith the rebuttal to Professor Haynes’ message, as sent to student members of the UCU:


Dear UCU student member

On Tuesday this week (7 Feb), all Imperial students received an email from the Vice-Provost (VP – Education & Student Experience) about the current dispute over USS pensions and pay. This email contains several errors and misleading statements that we would like to address here.

1)    The VP states: “Please be assured that you will not be examined on any content which you have not been taught as a result of strike action.”

In many cases where the exam papers have already been written, this may not be the case. 

2)    The VP states that “Funds will be directed to the Student Support Fund in the first instance”. This is what UCU always requests when we are forced to take industrial action.  Unfortunately, management has a different perspective.

The Provost’s email on the same day states:

Funds will be directed to the Student Support Fund by default, although individual departments will be able to claim for any additional support they need to mitigate the impacts of the industrial action on students.”

In other words, the priority for deducted salaries from strike action will be for departments to spend first. Any cash that is left over, will only then be given to the student hardship fund. 

3)    The VP states that “We will keep advocating strongly for reforms to USS to secure a fairer, more sustainable and affordable scheme for all members.”

This sounds good but has been flatly contradicted by a statement this week (7 Feb)***from senior management to UCU, in which they refuse to join the many other UK universities that have committed to reversing the USS pension cuts if the next valuation shows a healthy balance.. Instead, the College will only commit to supporting an “accelerated valuation timetable”. The College would prefer to leave open the option of reducing employer contributions. Presumably by stating “affordable to all members”, the College has in mind employers.

4)    Finally, the VP states in his email that “our priority is your education”, which we believe is simply not true.

If that were their priority, Imperial College would be supporting the staff who make your education possible at a time of crisis. The College priority appears to be student tuition fees and property deals even at the expense of staff and students. 

Imperial UCU Branch Committee

This what solidarity looks like

Solidarity action: Imperial Events Meeting cancelled (28 February 2023)

UCU Imperial branch is grateful to the distinguished journalist, author and broadcaster, Kenan Malik, who has withdrawn from an Events Meeting on Tuesday 28th February organised by the College, in solidarity with our strike action demanding an improved pay offer for all staff at Imperial. The meeting was originally organised to discuss his latest book Not So Black and White on race, class, and identity politics. However, he withdrew in support of our dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions in higher education, when it became apparent the meeting fell on a strike day in our dispute over local pay.

As Kenan said: “I don’t cross picket lines, and I support the strikes”.