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Exec to review sabb salaries

Jan 06 2003 16:13
Mustafa Arif
Sabbatical salaries in the spotlight as EPSRC pump up postgraduate grants by ?2k per year.
ICU Sabbs. How much are they really worth?

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."

The issue of sabbatical remuneration is likely to arise at the January meeting of ICU Council, which will, among other things, be debating a Motion of Censure against the President.

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Discussion about “Exec to review sabb salaries”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jan 06 2003 16:55

I would suggest that the sabbatical salaries continue to be pegged to the EPSRC grant. It's more than many other institutions, but then Imperial graduates are paid more too.

The remuneration is enough not to dissuade good candidates from standing (which happens elsewhere) whilst not so much as to tempt people to do it just for the money.

Linking it to a clerical scale is unwise - the link in principle should be with a student stipend, not an office salary.

There should not be any extra benefits such as mobiles or travelcards, except perhaps for the medic president (who travels). And sabbaticals should stay in halls, unless they have a very good reason not to be. A rather lower out of hall accommodation stipend (say, 30% lower) might provide an incentive and save a bit of money.

2. tom t   
Jan 07 2003 12:26


'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'

I must be @:!"?$% unlucky then, since I'm on the rock bottom minimum - shame college hasn't offered me free accommodation yet.... ?9.75k p.a. is not easy in London.....

nice to know i'm a less than average PhD student ;-)


3. Nia   
Jan 07 2003 13:09

Re: "Felix Editor" Post

At a students Union of which I was previously a member ( the vaguely comparable sabbatical post was called Communications Officer. This person was responsible for communicating what the hell the Union was up to to its members. Sponge (Felix with a wittier name) was deemed to be one means of achieving this. But I recall great emphesis being made on the point that "Communications Officer is not a Sponge Editor and should not spend their entire time doing that because there are too many other important things they need to be doing".

Jan 07 2003 13:25

Sorry you're on the "minimum", Tom but clearly your research group in Physics isn't rolling in it.

Try the engineering or medical faculties (well most of their departments, not all ;-)

Jan 07 2003 15:30

Last year at QM, the then QMSU VP (Finance, Sports & Socs), Charlotte Dawkins presented a paper to our Finance Committee which was finally agreed to fix a sabbatical salary increase to the increase in the Union's annual subvention from the College - we got a 5.1% block grant increase which means the sabbs' salaries rose by 5.1%.

The idea of linking the salaries to the EPSRC stipent for PhD students was rejected after research pointed to instability (ie. future large increases) in the stipend payment.

Quite frankly it would be great to link a sabbs salary to a research stipend (live off what a PG student lives off), but unfortunately with the difference between research councils being considerable, this has sort of gone by the side over the last decade.

The MRC has some stipends set at 27K, for example, while the EPSRC for this academic year is exactly 10k...

6. idris   
Jan 08 2003 09:27

Surely the need to radically boost EPSRC funding to attract more students reflects that up until now, EPSRC increases have failed to keep place with the market in potential postgrads? In which case, the sabbs are due for a boost by the same logic.

De-linking just because the latest shift in levels is uncomfortable makes no sense in the long term.

Jan 09 2003 00:05

Hmmm, what a shame this didnt appear. could have been fun. Would be interesting to hear how members of Exec decided. Methinks there is some backscratching going on. Hopefully council will spot any of this sort of thing.

I live in hope.

Wonder where the union is going to find the money....

Closed This discussion is closed.

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