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Abstract

This article provides an overview of the collective bargaining system in United Kingdom (UK) higher education and considers some of the current challenges. The arrangements for determining the pay of staff in UK higher education reflect both the historical context of the UK funding system and the unique nature of UK industrial relations law. From World War II, the funding of UK higher education has predominantly come from central government spending with a strong central framework of policy and governance. Since the 1960s, the higher education sector has grown dramatically, both in terms of student numbers and the number of institutions, much of this as a direct result of central government intervention. The law, as with the rest of the UK economy, has played a very limited role in defining the relationship between higher education employers and unions and bargaining arrangements are largely based on voluntary agreements between the two parties. These two factors have created a system of pay determination that is rather unique, compared to other major international higher education providers. While the current collective bargaining system has delivered stability and affordability for higher education employers, recently announced changes to the funding arrangements in England and financial pressures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are placing new challenges on future pay determination.