Colleges dispute findings of union report showing “significant” gender pay gap

A row has broken out between the University and College Union (UCU) and providers that dispute the findings of its new report identifying where women were said to be paid “significantly less than men”.

The union publicly unveiled the document today, but FE Week was shown a copy in advance and asked for responses from five colleges that were “named and shamed” as having “the widest combined gender pay gap”.

Of those, Northampton College, Great Yarmouth College (GYC), and Kirklees College disputed the validity of the findings — which prompted the union’s general secretary Sally Hunt to complain they were “playing shoot the messenger”.

Sally Hunt
Sally Hunt

The UCU claimed the report had exposed “shameful levels of pay inequality”, as at “nearly two-thirds (132 out of 203) of the English FE colleges that provided data, male lecturers are paid on average £1,000 more than women”.

However, a Northampton College spokesperson told FE Week the data “only relates to a portion of the academic staff within the college (lecturers only)”.

“The college employs a high proportion of teaching staff on an hourly paid basis and these contracts tend to be more attractive to women, enabling them to work more flexibly,” she added.

“There has [also] been a failure to consider data associated with the remaining academic staff.

“For example, female staff form approximately 67 per cent of the cohort of academic staff with additional or management duties.”

A Great Yarmouth College (GYC) spokesperson said: “We do not recognise this report as a fair reflection of our college, nor endorse the methodology; which appears flawed.”

She raised concern about “the potential misuse of actual headcount and salaries vs their full time equivalents”.

“The report uses different pay scales to our own and fails to recognise we use a single scale with automatic, incremental progression,” she added.

“Also the data excludes the programme area leads — our highest paid academic staff — of whom eight out of 10 are women.”

Melanie Brooke, vice principal of Kirklees College, said: “We’ve got a range of concerns about the way the whole data is presented.

“We would need to understand more on who the comparatives are and how part-time staff, for example, doing different jobs, have been reported in our data.”

A spokesperson for Milton Keynes College, which also appeared in the top five, also said it would “be investigating the [report] findings thoroughly”.

However, she said: “The college operates a single pay scale for all staff in teaching roles, irrespective of gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity and it is disappointing to read the UCU analysis which is not a picture the college recognises.”

Meanwhile, City College Norwich said it should not have featured second on the list, but “an unfortunate administrative error meant we submitted the actual salaries of teachers, as opposed to the full time equivalent salaries, in response to the UCU’s original FOI request”.

The comments prompted an impassioned response from Ms Hunt, who said: “UCU is disappointed that colleges are playing ‘shoot the messenger’ when it comes to the gender pay gap.

“Our survey has been conducted to the highest standards and shows that a significant gap exists between the pay of men and women.

“The response to the survey by some of the worst offenders sadly shows the level of complacency within parts of the sector about this serious issue.”

UCU also responded directly to the Great Yarmouth College claims, stating: “The FOI asked specifically for a headcount of all lecturers, and for male and female lecturers at each point of the nationally recognised eight-point scale, and clearly asked that colleges responding use the FTE salary for part time staff.

“Under the FOI Act the responder must ensure that the data they provide is correct.

“Any issue or confusion between part-time and full-time salaries is the responsibility of the college”.

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