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Top three HR and Employment law challenges facing higher education institutions

on Monday, 08 April 2024.

Higher Education Institutions are expecting to face several HR challenges over the next 12 months or so. Here's an overview of the top three challenges our clients are currently facing and how you could deal with them.

1- Financial challenges

Universities are facing financial challenges due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Frozen tuition fees
  • Uncertainty in both domestic and international student recruitment
  • Underfunded research and rising costs

These challenges mean that universities are having to consider cost-cutting measures which will affect staff.

How can you address this?

Many universities have opened voluntary severance schemes. In considering applications under these types of schemes it is important to balance the requirement for cost-savings against the need to retain the right staff to deliver your student offering and ensure the university can continue to run smoothly.

If a scheme such as this does not achieve sufficient cost savings, you may need to consider other measures, balancing potential financial savings with factors such as possible industrial action and/or legal challenge, impact on staff morale and negative publicity. 

These measures could include:

  • Terminating any arrangements for agency workers
  • Non-renewal of fixed-term contracts
  • Compulsory redundancies
  • Offering an alternative to the Local Government Pension Scheme, Teachers Pension Scheme and other defined benefit pension schemes
  • Outsourcing of services

We are currently advising a number of universities on the pros and cons of these and other cost saving measures.

2- General election

Besides some amendments to family friendly/ flexible working rights, there has been very little substantive legislative change to employment law over recent years. However, the Labour Party has committed to introducing an Employment Bill within 100 days, if elected.

Proposed changes which could impact on universities include:

  • Delivering a genuine living wage
  • Banning zero hours contracts
  • Ending fire and re-hire
  • Reform of trade union laws and strengthening the role of trade unions in society
  • Extending equal pay rights to ethnic minority workers and disabled people

How can you address this?

Given the impact that such changes could have, including increased costs, less flexibility and the prospect of more industrial action, you should:

  • Reflect on these issues
  • Remain vigilant in respect of announcements and further detail from all political parties which may have HR implications
  • Consider the possible financial implications and other risks of any proposals
  • Prepare to proactively respond to any proposals and implement any necessary changes

3- Recruitment, retention and reward

Attracting, retaining and rewarding the best people is a challenge for universities. In the current climate, other sectors and overseas institutions can offer higher salaries and more attractive benefits while HEIs are having to take steps to reduce costs.

Universities are people organisations and you need the structures, capabilities and workforce to drive your university forward and achieve your strategic aims. Supporting your people and creating an exciting workplace which drives consistent excellence is key.

How can you address this?

Whilst you may be unable to compete financially with the packages being offered by employers outside the HE sector or overseas, your culture, values and commitment to helping staff realise their potential should not be underestimated and we have assisted universities with a number of initiatives including:

  • Ensuring recruitment processes target the most diverse pool possible and encouraging applications from those who might not have considered a career in HE before
  • Highlighting enhanced family friendly and flexible working policies
  • Celebrating and embracing equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Positive action to encourage applications for promotion from those in disproportionately under-represented groups
  • Health and wellbeing initiatives

We would be happy to share our experience with you and support you in implementing such initiatives or expanding those which you already have in place. For further information, please contact Jane Byford in our Higher Education Employment team on 07909 656764 or complete the form below.

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