Undervalued, ignored, abused, or dismissed.

The below is an abridged version of last week’s presentation by Te Pou Ahurei | National Secretary Sandra Grey, as she launched Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union’s new State of the Sector report - ‘The problem with pay in universities’.

Today I want to present a brief summary of work carried out by Dr Charles Sedgwick and Eliza de Waal who are the researchers responsible for the 2022 State of the Sector Surveys. They’re on the other side of the world but have worked tirelessly to put together seven major reports on the state of tertiary education in Aotearoa.

They have analysed the responses of over 3,000 tertiary education staff on everything from pay, to workloads, to management and their voice. We have more reports coming around Te Pūkenga and other parts of the sector, but today we are launching the first report – on university pay.

This short presentation is based on responses from 1,155 general/professional staff and 1,470 academics who work in universities.

What does it show?

It shows that pay in universities is not experienced as a genuine, honest, and transparent way to recognise the important skills, dedication, and care of university staff.

Rather, respondents to the State of the Sector Survey say that pay is a grudging compensation in a system driven by distrust of staff. And the pay rates are not sufficient to cover the hours of work or what staff do.

Half of the university academic respondents in the 2022 State of the Sector survey were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their pay rates, stating they do not reflect the hours they work. And 55% said their pay does not reflect the type of work they do.

The situation is similar for the general/professional staff respondents. Forty percent indicated that their pay rates did not reflect the hours they worked. And 57% were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied that their pay reflected the type of work they do.

Why this dissatisfaction?

One respondent said “it's taken me 7 years to get back to the LOWEST salary I earned whilst working in the manufacturing sector. Why are we not better valued considering the employment landscape at the moment?”

While another stated “the salaries are too low in comparison with other sectors … Career progression is too slow and full of obstacles ... it seems the university exploits the nature of lectureship, in which changing jobs frequently is not usual (no need to compete if most of your employees won't jump ship).”

None of this will be of surprise to any of the members who have been part of the action we’ve taken to get a real pay rise over the last year.

But there is more to the problem of pay according to survey respondents. They noted that they work in a flawed system, internally fragmented, persistently demanding, distrustful of them, and controlled by a disconnected management.

The system is flawed because workloads are multiplied with arbitrary non-core functions and constantly changing situations out of staff control.

The system is flawed because senior managers are disconnected from the realities facing underpaid and undervalued staff.

Respondents were not expressing unhappiness with their ‘job’, but with their institutions’ responses to pay, stress, appointment, and promotion processes.

Respondents received off-hand comments from managers that make them reluctant to even talk about pay or other job-related issues.

The discontent around pay goes deeper than the salaries on offer; it goes to the heart of the way universities are run. A process that makes staff a liability evaluated on a cost/benefit scale; disciplined by tools of pay and promotion, reviews, and restructuring and constantly feeling undervalued, ignored, abused, or dismissed.

It is clear that standing together delivered in 2022/23 – we got higher pay rises than were first offered and for some that means over two years a 12 per cent bump in wages.

But there is more needed. To get it we must link arms once more and call university management and government to account. Time to address the crushing system of punishment and rebukes, to ensure funding to universities allows for real pay rises and promotions – after all, staff conditions of work are students’ conditions of learning.

Click here to read the full report.