Last month, Times Higher Education published its annual survey of UK academic pay levels, detailing on an institutional level how much vice- chancellors and other academic staff get paid.
The survey always provokes response, and Cristina Costa, lecturer in lifelong learning at the University of Strathclyde, used her eponymous blog to add her voice to the debate about the impact of the research excellence framework on the demand for distinguished academics.
“The [pay survey] article points out that professors’ salaries have risen considerably more than salaries in other academic grades…[and] attributes this phenomenon to the upcoming REF,” she writes.
This, she continues, is a well-known trend in academic circles as universities compete for the “best” senior academics. According to institutions, she says, this means hiring individuals “with numerous publications in high rank journals, an outstanding and successful record of research grants, and, if possible, evidence of how their research can demonstrate impact”.
She details her personal experience of trawling through job websites, saying it was impossible not to notice that “the hunt for the professor was on”. “Several institutions promoted their daring, million pound strategies, appealing for the ‘brilliant minds’ of the world to join their departments or schools,” she writes, saying the whole experience felt like the football transfer system.
Dr Costa says her concern, however, is that, once the REF comes around again, publications will still be the main measure of research quality, rather than digital forms of publishing. “I fear that the innovative approaches digital scholars are exploring for the creation and dissemination of knowledge will have little effect in the years to come if future exercises such as REF do not take the habitus of digital scholars seriously and see them as meaningful practices making a significant contribution to the real world.”
Meanwhile, the fictional world of Burston Central University is the setting for an anonymous storytelling blog, Wading through Treacle, where Burston’s vice-chancellor had concerns about the imminent publication of the THE pay survey.
Rather than ponder what impact the REF would have on professorial pay, he was more worried about the impact his own pay would have on perceptions of his university.
“I’ve had an email from the Times Higher. It’s their annual VC salary humiliation this week, and they want to know why my salary is one of the five highest. I need a good answer,” says the vice-chancellor, before outlining the content of the correspondence.
“Burston Central in the bottom five of the THE ratings…doesn’t your performance actually merit being the bottom five for pay…why did you get a bonus last year…how could your 20 per cent increase in pension contributions be explained…twice the pay of the prime minister…” A beleaguered co-worker can only reassure his boss, somewhat meekly, that he is “worth every penny”.
The site makes clear that Burston Central University is entirely fictional, and that any character’s resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. “This irritating bunch are far too awful to work in a real institution,” it says.
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