Leader: AUT's new leader faces daunting challenges

March 29, 2002

Sally Hunt is to be congratulated on winning the election for one of the most important jobs in British higher education. An effective general secretary for the Association of University Teachers is needed more than ever. And she is taking the post at a uniquely tough time.

If a trade union is judged by the incomes and job security of its members, the AUT and its sister organisation Natfhe are both failures. By contrast, the employers' success in expanding student numbers without comparable increases in staff numbers or pay must be the envy of the private sector.

The AUT has to face these issues at a time when its members are again being called on to expand the system with no guarantee of the people or money with which to do it. Most AUT members are suspicious of anything that involves novel forms of funding, especially full-cost fees or other commercial-looking approaches to students and research. But the sector must have new money to pay the people it already has properly, let alone to allow expansion. Success for Hunt means navigating this minefield in a way that is acceptable to her members, brings new cash into the sector and helps rebuild the esteem of the academic profession. And she should preferably do all this while overcoming AUT members' aversion to Natfhe and forming a single union for academics. If this seems a tall order, she can take comfort from the fate of her predecessors. Which, one wonders, would she prefer - running Universities UK or the Labour Party?

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