Return to Sender? The dilemma of what Universities should do with strike money relating to externally funded Salary costs

A variety of academics whose salaries are funded (either in part or wholly) through external research council grants have been questioning what will happen to the money Universities deduct from their pay as a result of the current UCU strike action. Some suggested to We are Higher Education that the approach that would make the most sense would be to allow principal investigators to extend contracts where appropriate to ensure full deliverables. Others suggested that an alternative would be to return those monies back to Research Councils at the end of the grant. Some, however, suspected that HEIs wouldn’t really have thought too hard about this and might just use funds in the same way as other salary deductions, drawing no distinction as to salary source.

This prompted a number of academics in the We are Higher Education project to ask their HEIs what they plan to do with strike monies relating to grant funded staff.  Reports from researchers from several major HEIs suggest that some research intensive Universities intend to use those funds to pay for “cover teaching” (e.g. by casual staff). Other correspondence shared with us shows that some other institutions haven’t been quite so explicit, but have been able to confirm that will not extend the period of the grant to ensure sufficient time to complete deliverables, nor return the monies to grant funders. In these cases it would appear that some HEIs intend to keep externally funded money not spent on direct salary costs of researchers.

We are Higher Education staff took up the query directly with grant funders, asking what Universities can and should do with “strike deductions” from salaries that were externally funded. The responses so far suggest that the approaches the above HEIs are taking to monies deducted for strike may not be in line with the terms and conditions of the grants. Research Councils UK for instance helpfully clarified its position as follows,

…as per our T&Cs those amounts awarded in a Grant cannot be used for other purposes, they must be returned to RCs at the end of the Grant via the FES.

This suggests some possible confusion among some HEIS as to what the T&Cs of RC grants state. It also suggests that some Universities are proposing to spend these funds in a way that some Research Councils, at least, do not permit. There is a need for far greater clarity across the HE sector and we hope that Research Councils will seek to issue simple guidance and that HEIs will also take the time to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of grants awarded to institutions. What also remains to be addressed is the position of researchers themselves who in light of the above are likely to be expected to fulfil the full deliverables on external grants, but potentially without the time or funding to do so.


I’m an externally funded researcher and I am striking. I want to be really sure of my position in relation to money deducted from my salary. I also want to make sure that there is transparency and that monies under the grant are used in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant. What should I do? 

To be sure, you can check what the situation is with your research council and the research office at your institution. You can ask your Research Council to clarify the terms and conditions, and its position in relation to the above (other research councils may take a different position to RCUK). We also suggest that at the point your university asks you to declare whether you were on strike that you also copy in the appropriate research council, providing details of your project number. If you are uncomfortable doing that, you could ask your Research officer or line manager at that point, and to confirm in an email, whether these salary costs will remain on the grant so that they can be used towards other project costs or an extension of the contract.

Please keep us posted with the responses you get either in the comments section or by using our contact form.

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