This week?s meeting of ICU Exec will be discussing the future of sabbatical salaries at Imperial College Union. Sabbatical salaries are currently pegged to the post-tax value of an EPSRC PhD study grant, which is due to rise by £2k per year.
Since their inception the 1970s, ICU has paid sabbatical offices a salary equivalent to the value of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council EPSRC PhD study grant. The EPSRC grant is currently around £10k a year. However, the sabbaticals are offered a free room in halls (or a living allowance if they choose to live out) and have their salary bumped up to cover their income tax and national insurance liability (since EPSRC grants are tax-free). Including employers? national insurance contribution the cost of employing a sabbatical is currently about £20k.
The rationale behind linking sabbatical salaries with the EPSRC grant is that no postgraduate student is disincentivised, any more so than an undergraduate, from standing for election to sabbatical office on financial grounds.
Many Imperial PhD students now receive supplementary grants from their supervisors' research funds (often industrially sponsored). In addition the medical mergers mean that a substantial proportion of postgraduate students receive grants from medical research councils, whose awards are significantly higher than EPSRC. So the EPSRC grant is much less than what the average PhD receives at Imperial, although it does represent the minimum level.
In recent years EPSRC have been increasing their grants by £500 per year. The union has absorbed this extra cost by cutting back on club and society spending (except in the 2000 budgeting round when President Hamish Common secured an increase in the Union?s subvention block grant from the College).
EPSRC now wish to make research more attractive to students who might otherwise work in business. They are accelerating the growth in postgraduate study grants by introducing annual increases of £2000. Accumulated over the President, three Deputy Presidents and Felix Editor, this will have a serious financial impact for ICU. The College has stated on several occasions that it will not pay for above-inflation salary increases of any union staff.
Live! understands that the Exec will consider de-linking sabbatical salaries from the EPSRC grant and instead pegging them to one of College?s clerical pay scales (as is the case with the Union?s permanent staff). This could pose its own problems, however, as university staff are currently locked in a pay dispute with the College, demanding a £3k increase in London Weighting.
The University of London Union reviewed sabbatical salaries across UL last year and found that Imperial's sabbaticals offered the most value. Sabbaticals at other universities were often paid significantly more (especially at LSE) and received benefits such as a free mobile phone or travelcard, although most did not get their accomodation paid for them.
It is expected that attention will also focus at other ways to reduce sabbatical costs. The free room in hall for sabbatical officers is likely to come under scrutiny, which the ?living out? grant for those who choose not to stay in halls looking particularly precarious.
Some union figures may also look (again) at the value of the sabbatical Felix Editor. The usual reason given for why Felix needs a sabbatical is that courses at Imperial are more intensive and so we don?t have enough spare time to run a newspaper. Yet, the Beaver, LSE?s student newspaper is run purely by volunteers, despite their courses also having demanding timetables. In the whole of London, the only other student newspapers with full-time editors are Roar at Kings College and the London Student at ULU. Felix Editor, Will Dugdale, admitted to ICU Council last year that he felt he was "not really worth it."