Leader: Performance achieved, now for the related pay

June 22, 2001

Education ministers come and go, but Gordon Brown, who now has his own education adviser, continues at the Treasury. So doubtless the first rule of public spending will continue to be "something for something". Sir Howard Newby's enthusiasm for performance-related pay in universities is specifically well fitted to this agenda.

Academics and their unions are right to point out that lecturers have already performed and should be paid for it, especially women suffering systematic discrimination. There can be no other industry in which output could have increased so much in recent years with so paltry an increase in staff numbers or pay.

Over this period of expansion, a pay gap between the academic and other professions has developed so massive that it cannot be cured overnight. The way ahead might be for staff and unions to decide what they want from performance-related pay, while rejecting it in its crudest forms. For academics in a strong bargaining position, or who can attract significant research funds, vice-chancellors already operate pay scales of their own devising. The same applies to the big names whom the Royal Society is tempting back from overseas or trying to keep in the United Kingdom. A system that offered more transparency and spread the rewards around all members of winning departments could mitigate the present winner-takes-all setup.

But one prerequisite for engaging with performance-related pay is to know what performance is. It would be a good start to resolve the argument whereby one academic union asks for automatic cash bonuses for members who join the Institute for Learning and Teaching while the other regards the ILT as a device of the devil.

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