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HE institutions remain attractive employers but struggle to keep pace with soaring IT salaries

11 November 2015

A comprehensive Higher Education (HE) workforce survey published today by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) shows that the UK HE sector continues to benefit from relatively few recruitment and retention difficulties. The published report, Higher Education Workforce Survey 2015, also finds that HE institutions have been active in a range of ways to improve the management of their workforces and deliver efficiencies within a challenging funding environment.

The survey, examining data drawn from 2013-14, indicates that HE institutions generally have relatively low labour turnover compared to other sectors of the economy and that any recruitment and retention difficulties are limited to some specific occupations and academic disciplines. Recruitment is more likely to be an issue than retention because once staff members are recruited they tend to stay.

HE remains a highly attractive sector to external job hunters with 27% of professional staff coming from the private sector and 16% from the public sector, compared to 29% whose previous job was in the HE sector. The majority of academic staff joined their current HE institution from another institution while a quarter of experienced lecturers were recruited directly from public, voluntary and private sector organisations. The sector continues to draw academic expertise from overseas with 15 % coming from other EU countries and 11.4% coming from non-EU countries. STEM disciplines are particularly reliant on international staff with 38.7% of the academic workforce in engineering and technology coming from overseas including 20.1% from non-EU countries.

For academic staff, HE institutions report most challenges in recruiting staff in business & management studies, nursing & allied health, economics & econometrics and clinical medicine. Weighted according to the number of HE institutions that offer each subject, clinical medicine and dentistry top the list followed by economics & econometrics and chemical engineering.

For professional services staff, competition for IT staff has intensified with 52% of HEIs reporting difficulties recruiting staff in this area, up from 35% in 2013. Respondents report that they have found it harder to compete with recent increases in IT salaries and that this can have operational consequences. Universities are also finding it more difficult to recruit estates and finance staff than two years ago with 28% and 22% of HEIs reporting difficulties respectively.

The analysis of the data shows that voluntary employee turnover for full-time academic staff is low compared with the rest of the economy (9.9%) with rates ranging from 5.5% for professors to 9.6% for research assistants. Turnover for full-time professional services staff is also below that for the wider economy, but part-time rates are at or near that benchmark. The lowest full-time voluntary turnover is found among staff in skilled trades (5.8%) while managers (8.2%) and associate professional occupations (9.7%) are the highest.

Four out of five HEIs (78%) employ apprentices or plan to do so in the near future. The most common areas are business administration, estates and IT and 29% of respondents say they have created apprenticeships as a direct response to recruitment difficulties.
Helen Fairfoul, UCEA Chief Executive, commented “We are pleased that the survey results show such a positive picture of the HE labour market overall. There are some traditional recruitment hotspots such as IT and finance and we can see that these are becoming more challenging in a tightening labour market, but the total reward package offered by HE institutions still competes well with packages in the private and public sectors. The take up of apprentices in the sector is noteworthy and, with evidence of other training schemes, shows another way that HE is making an important contribution to the Government’s skills and employment agenda.”


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Notes to Editors

The UK-wide survey is based on returns from 96 HE institutions (out of 162) and is supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which assisted with additional analysis and survey design. The report also includes an analysis of staff turnover using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) – these data are for England only.

The full Higher Education Workforce Survey 2015 report is available on the UCEA website