The London School of Economics has effectively scrapped nationally agreed pay scales for most of its academic staff so that it can offer higher salaries to attract the world’s best early career researchers, its personnel chief has admitted.
Indi Seehra, the LSE’s director of human resources, said that one of the main reasons for introducing a new career structure for teaching staff in 2013-14 was that senior management felt that the school was not offering high enough salaries to entice leading junior academics.
Shortly after the arrival of the LSE’s director Craig Calhoun in September 2012, it was decided that there was a “need to tackle remuneration” in order to attract more top talent, Mr Seehra told the Universities Human Resources national conference in Leeds on 20 May.
That meant “moving away from the single salary spine”, which was introduced nationally in 2006, with the new salary scales increasing by 20 per cent in each band to allow the LSE to compete for top staff, he added. “We cannot do it on environment, as we are in central London, or on housing, so somewhere the issue of money has to come in,” he said.
Under the LSE’s career structure, assistant or associate professors teaching staff could be paid up to £74,516 a year in 2013-14, about £11,000 more than the maximum allowed under the national pay framework used by other universities in 2013-14. Professors are also paid more under the new career structure, with salaries potentially reaching £118,628 in 2013-14, according to the LSE’s website.
Mr Seehra, a former head of human resources at the University of Cambridge, said that he expected Cambridge to follow the LSE’s example and move within a few years to its own bespoke pay and career structure.
His comments are likely to raise concerns that leading universities may use their financial power to poach top research academics, fuelling large-scale pay inflation at all levels of the sector. Asked how the LSE would afford to pay the extra money to staff, Mr Seehra said that he hoped that research councils would show “greater flexibility” in making grant awards.
“We would say ‘we are investing in the best researchers in this way and this is why we are putting in research costs in this way’,” he said.
Delegates heard how the new career structure, which is due to be introduced for research staff this autumn, had faced considerable union opposition, particularly among support staff left on the old, lower-paid structure.
Questions had also been raised by the union about the tougher performance management used in the new structure, in which those who did not meet criteria would be required to leave after their eight-year probation period ended – a policy it described as “up or out”.
But the clearly defined, albeit more stretching, performance criteria meant that academics could be largely left alone to carry out their research, Mr Seehra said.
“If you are really tough on who you are bringing in and tough when people need to go, you can really leave people on their own,” he said.