Nottingham job scale a disaster

December 12, 2003

Nottingham University has broken away from the rest of the higher education sector in its approach to pay and grading ("Nottingham strike threat over job scale", THES , December 5). Having been through the job-evaluation process, I would strongly advise other universities not to follow its lead.

As your article explains, the methodology on which the system is based is imported from the private sector. It rewards those who manage staff and administer large budgets, but does not take into account the collaborative nature of higher education. Thus, anomalies have arisen and many staff feel let down.

The proportion of staff who have been downgraded ("red circled") is relatively small. But a much larger proportion has been moved from scales on which they would expect an annual increment for several years to scales on which progression is severely restricted.

The "personal supermaximum" typifies the subjective nature of the process and is inconsistent with ensuring "equal pay for equal work". No information about this was given prior to the job-matching exercise, and staff feel confused and suspicious.

Future academic-related staff in the £18,000 to £28,000 pay range (grades one and two under the old system) will not be able to join the Universities Superannuation Scheme, unless previously members.

Assurances that this exercise is not about keeping the salary bill down ring hollow.

It is misleading for the university to claim that the new system "has been accepted by clerical, administrative and support staff". Great pressure has been put on staff to "sign up" to the new process, and the university has made it clear that there is no alternative. Anyone who wishes to appeal against their grading must first sign up to the new arrangements - in effect "accepting" the new system.

There is also the inducement of an "assimilation payment" in the pre-Christmas pay packet. But, for the majority of administrative and clerical staff, medium and long-term losses outweigh any short-term benefits. Staff morale has declined and in some areas it has plummeted.

This can only intensify with the arrival in the new year of performance-related pay.

Such a system might be appropriate in the private-sector but not in higher education. It undermines the collaborative ethos on which universities depend and forces staff to focus on arbitrary targets that do not reflect the nature of their jobs. Even after training sessions, most colleagues remain bewildered as to what targets might be deemed appropriate for their roles.

We are told the scheme will make the university more dynamic and "pioneering". But the scheme is already creating extra layers of bureaucracy (surely the last thing any university needs). And paperwork is bound to increase as the "reward" strategy is implemented since the system appears to require constant monitoring and form-filling. This will lead to the stifling of initiative, the avoidance of risk and the reinforcement of hierarchies.

The Nottingham proposals are another step towards the marketisation of higher education (it is no coincidence that Nottingham has also been leading the charge towards variable student top-up fees). They are based on dubious assumptions and seriously flawed methodology. Far from rewarding staff, they will alienate and demoralise them while doing nothing to equip the university for the challenges that lie ahead.

Peter Elford
Humanities Research Centre
University of Nottingham

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