The Vice-Chancellor has pledged to take a pay cut for six months, but there are worries other measures adopted by the University Council on Monday will disproportionately affect female and BAME staff Louis Ashworth

The University Council has approved wide-ranging measures aimed at mitigating the financial impact related to the coronavirus, which include restricting staff salary increases and promotions next year.

Following the decisions by the University decision-making body, Cambridge will end its Contract Extension Scheme on 31st July which had provided financial security to staff whose contracts were due to end during the Covid-period.

But the measures have drawn criticism from Cambridge University and College Union (CUCU) who claim that fewer promotions will disproportionately affect female and BAME staff. Ending the Extension Scheme may also disadvantage minority ethnic groups who make up a larger share of staff on fixed-term contracts.

Under the new measures, staff earning over £100,000 a year will also be asked to participate in a voluntary 10% pay reduction scheme. In 2019, 347 staff members out of a total of over 11,000 earned a basic salary exceeding £100,000 per annum.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope himself pledged to participate in this scheme – and has volunteered to take an additional five per cent cut – for six months. In 2019, the Vice-Chancellor’s salary was £475,000, which would suggest this 15% cut would reduce Toope’s salary by £35,625, to £439,375.


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The announcement comes two months after leaders at other universities committed to pay cuts. In April, the President of King’s College London, Ed Byrne announced he would take a 30% pay cut for six months, whose salary was £350,000 in 2018-9. Similarly, the President of Imperial College London, Alice Gast whose annual pay package is worth £554,000, announced a 20% personal pay cut. Based on these figures, the two see a reduction of over £50,000.

Among the other measures which were approved this week, the University will end four reward and progression schemes: the Professorial Pay Review 2020, the Grade 12 Contribution Reward Scheme 2021, the University Senior Lecturer Contribution Reward Scheme 2021 and the Researcher Increment Scheme 2020/21.

Grading and pay restructuring were introduced by the University as a way to reward staff, ensure that staff salaries are competitive within the academic labour market and to recognise staff contribution which goes ‘above and beyond’ expectations.

In the message detailing the measures, which was sent to staff yesterday, the Vice-Chancellor explained that the University is taking these measures “to ensure that our University has the resources and the resilience to uphold its mission and safeguard its people both now and in the future”.

Staff salaries are based on a 12-point Grade system, and as staff move to a different Grade, they are able to gain new titles such as ‘Senior Lecturer’ and ‘Professor’. Within each Grade, staff can also obtain salary increases by moving up several ‘bands’.

Moving up a band within each Grade is an automatic process which takes place every year and will continue to take place following the Council decisions.

To move up Grades, however, staff must apply for promotion themselves, and are also permitted apply to move up extra bands if they feel they have contributed particularly to their field in the previous year. It is these two processes which will be frozen, with only staff below Grade 6 now eligible for the contribution schemes.

The University pledged to discuss the possibility of staff being able to apply for promotions in title, even if their numerical salary remains the same.

But in a statement following the decisions yesterday, CUCU suggested that the University’s proposed measures “will increase inequality”, and suggested that “once the pandemic is over, we may very well be left with a University that is considerably more unequal than it is now”.

“The pandemic has hit BAME people across the country much harder... if promotions stop, things [for female and BAME staff] will not get better, and there’s a chance they may get worse”

“Some of this is progressive”, a CUCU spokesperson told Varsity, highlighting in particular how contribution schemes will still be available for staff on lower-income grades, who may currently need these most.

But they emphasised how at higher Grades, female and BAME staff are underrepresented – in 2019, women made up 37.2% University lecturers and 21.4% of professors, while the numbers are lower still for BAME staff, at 13% and 7%, respectively.

“By freezing all promotions, this solidifies these inequalities,” says the spokesperson.

“The pandemic has hit BAME people across the country much harder”, they argue, and highlight the reduced research output by female academics during lockdown, which may be due to family caring responsibilities, taken up disproportionately by women. Given these additional impacts, the spokesperson urges that “if promotions stop, things [for female and BAME staff] will not get better, and there’s a chance they may get worse”.

BAME staff also make up a much larger portion of those on fixed-term contracts than their White-British counterparts – 42.7% compared to 22.9%. The spokesperson insists will this mean they will bear a larger burden of the Extension Scheme coming to a close, leaving them to fare with an “extremely difficult job market”.

“We need the University to consider these issues,” the spokesperson said, arguing CUCU has pushed the University to collect and hand over detailed data on these effects during the pandemic to help generate an Equality Impact Assessment, which the University has now begun work on.

Varsity has reached out to the University for further comment concerning these impacts.

The news comes after the Vice-Chancellor in April announced an anticipated 10-15% drop in the University’s endowment this year due to the impact of coronavirus, as well as expected increases in pension costs. Fewer book purchases from Cambridge University Press and examinations held by Cambridge Assessment, who together form a wider group with the University, is also adding to the financial strain.

In further efforts to mitigate the fallout, the University Council has decided to pause all University construction projects – even those in preliminary phases. However, the Human Resources Committee will consider a review of the current freezing on recruitment in July, taking into account emerging data from the last few months.