Has university pay fallen by more than 20% against RPI since 2009?

No. This figure is based on an error in arithmetic.

According to the material accompanying UCU’s pay and equalities strike ballot, “The value of university salaries has fallen against inflation by over 20% since 2009”. The union’s General Secretary recently reiterated that “We believe the true decline over the past decade is over 20%….” The grounds for this claim are spelled out here:

The union says that staff pay has actually fallen by around 20% in the last decade as pay awards in higher education have resulted in a cumulative increase of 11%. In the same time period, the RPI index has increased by 31.8%. Meaning staff in higher education have seen the value of their pay decline by 20.8% since 2009.

The details behind these figures are provided by this chart from the 2018/19 pay claim:

Joint Higher Education Trade Union Pay Claim 2019/20, p. 7.

The 20.8% figures appears to have been derived by subtracting the last column from the second column of the bottom row.

In order, however, to derive the fall of pay in RPI terms since 2009, a different calculation is required: namely 1-(111.0/131.8). This calculation yields a 15.8% fall in RPI terms since 2009, rather than a 20.8% fall.

As I have noted previously, the use of the RPI measure of inflation is itself statistically flawed, in a way that significantly overstates inflation. But the point I make above goes through even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that RPI is a sound measure of inflation. As I have also noted, the union’s January 2009 baseline is cherry picked. When one uses sound measures of inflation and a non-cherry-picked baseline, the actual real terms fall in pay is roughly 5.5% and a 5.8% rise in pay would be needed to recover from this fall. See this thread:

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Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method, LSE

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