Pay & Conditions: professional services pay benchmarking workshop

Bob Price

Bob Price is an external member of the Pay & Conditions Steering Committee. His experience ranges widely across all aspects of HR in the Higher Education section, as well as in commercial and scientific fields. He has also served as the external member of the University Personnel Committee for five years.

Bob began his career at Warwick University as a researcher and lecturer. In 1988, he moved to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as Head of Planning and International Relations and then became the Director of Personnel at the Agricultural and Food Research Council (AFRC). From 2002 until 2018 Bob was the Director of Human Resources at Oxford Brookes University. In parallel, from 1983 to 2018, he was also an Oxford City Councillor and Leader of the Council from 2008 to 2018.

The Pay & Conditions Steering Committee’s work began in June, and an intensive schedule of meetings and workshops have been planned through to the end of Michaelmas term. A key element in the review is the compilation and interrogation of comparative data on salaries, pay supplements and conditions of service for all categories of University staff, against comparable jobs in other sectors of employment, including other parts of higher education. 

The Steering Committee has a series of workshops planned where steering committee members can take a deep dive into the data.  It had its initial workshop on 22 August with the aim of scoping out the most satisfactory approach to benchmarking Professional Services roles in the University against the external labour market. The Steering Committee considered a mass of data from specialist pay research analysts, providing both a regional and a national perspective. The central objective of this benchmarking is to assess whether salaries for Oxford’s Professional Service jobs are sufficiently competitive to attract and retain the calibre and number of staff that are needed. 

The project team undertook a prodigious amount of work to produce the benchmark databases but, like most similar exercises, the raw data cannot provide a satisfactory picture on their own, and the workshop provided an opportunity for the committee to identify a number of critical questions which will require further research and investigation. Central to these is the issue of ‘like for like’. To what extent do the pay survey data genuinely match the content of University jobs to those found elsewhere with apparently similar job descriptions? The content of much University technical and scientific work, for example, is not widely found in other employment sectors. To address this, the committee has asked for a set of case study analyses which will link specific University roles with comparative jobs externally to supplement the broad datasets that are provided by the available surveys. Specific comparisons with other major universities and the Oxfordshire high-tech sector would be of particular value, and the internal labour market that operates across the collegiate University should also be taken into account.  

The Oxford labour market is one of the ‘tightest’ in the UK – there have for many years been more jobs than available people. This places a particular emphasis on the need to compare transport costs and travel times for staff coming to work in the University with those comparable jobs elsewhere – these may be major disincentives even if pay and other conditions are on a par. Having considered the data, the committee decided it needed to get more specific data reflecting those areas of employment where the University has had difficulty in recruitment and retention in recent years.  

During the second workshop on 13 September, the committee will be considering academic staff benchmarking.  Additionally, there will be an open Town Hall event for staff on 11 October, at which the Steering Committee will be hoping to get a wide spread of your views on the University’s pay and conditions. Staff views will also be sought through a series of focus groups which will be held in September and October. The focus groups will also be an important source of qualitative data to accompany the existing quantitative data. 


Please share any thoughts or questions that you have about the Pay & Conditions work with the project team using the staff feedback form