Bristol University agrees ‘landmark deal’ on gender pay gap

Bristol’s deputy vice-chancellor and provost said the university was ‘proud to be leading the way’

A landmark deal has been reached to tackle the gender pay gap at one Russell Group university.

The agreement between the University of Bristol and the main lecturers’ union, which has been hailed as “the first of its kind”, follows 18 months of negotiations.

Senior leaders from the university and the University and College Union (Bristol UCU) signed a collective agreement outlining steps the employer will take to tackle the issue, which will include training managers to challenge “cultural biases” against women.

Bristol’s deputy vice-chancellor and provost, Prof Judith Squires, said the university was “proud to be leading the way”.

The median pay gap between women and men at the University of Bristol is 13.6%, which is below the national average in UK higher education of 15.1% and below the UK-wide gap of 17.9%.

The new three-page agreement has seen the university pledge to establish an academic career development programme board, which will monitor the provider and devise new plans and targets. The board will include representatives from Bristol UCU.

Welcoming the news, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Instead of seeking to mitigate the seriousness of issues such as pay equality, casualisation and workloads, institutions across the sector should be looking to follow Bristol’s example.

“Universities now need to put pressure on their representatives to provide firm proposals that address all the issues at the heart of the current disputes.”

The union is engaged in a long-running dispute with the higher education sector on issues of casualisation, inequality, workloads and pay.

This landmark agreement shows what can be achieved when universities work with us to tackle a problem head on
– Suzy Cheeke, Bristol UCU


Read more: Casual contracts ‘dehumanise’ lecturers – UCU


In its new plan, the university has promised:

  • All managers will receive training to “tackle cultural biases and practices that disadvantage women”, including developing a “clear understanding of equality and diversity issues”
  • New targets for gender-balanced recruitment panels and shortlists
  • Transfer will be allowed between all academic pathways. Staff on ‘teaching-only’ contracts are being moved to teaching and research contracts, where possible. Staff say not being able to conduct their own research holds back their career opportunities
  • ‘Research-only’ staff (who are disproportionately women) will get access to bridging funding to retain them in employment between grants
  • Third of professorships to be held by women by 2023 – a new target will be set shortly by the new joint board
  • All vacancies will “explicitly invite candidates to discuss” flexible working, adding “the default position in recruitment…is to support and enable such requests”
  • Identify challenges for career progression for part-time staff, who are more likely to be women, and report the findings and figures to the new joint board

Prof Squires said: “The University of Bristol and UCU have been working together on this issue since 2018 and have made real progress since then with new initiatives to support women’s career development and a new academic promotions framework.

“But there is still more work to do, and this new agreement outlines key actions which will help to achieve our shared aim. We’re proud to be leading the way on such an important issue and hope this collaborative approach may act as a positive catalyst for change on the gender pay gap in the sector as a whole.”

Vice-president of Bristol UCU Suzy Cheeke said: “This landmark agreement shows what can be achieved when universities work with us to tackle a problem head on. We now have a series of measures in place to deliver real positive change for women at the University of Bristol.”

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