Some lecturers could get pay rises of 20 per cent next year, according to figures released by employers this week. The news comes as the two main academic trade unions crank up the threat of industrial action.
The indicative figures show salaries for junior lecturers in old universities at the top of their pay scale could rise from £25,451 to more than £30,000 - up 20.3 per cent - from August 2004 under the proposed pay structure.
Lecturers on the minimum starting salary of £22,191 in old and new universities will get £24,886, an increase of 12.1 per cent. The minimum salary for professors in old universities will increase 10.1 per cent to almost £45,000.
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "This is the best opportunity to build a platform for better pay that we have had in a very long time. The benefits to be gained are significant and we'd urge the academic unions to explain these in detail to their members."
Ucea adviser Peter Thorpe said: "The new pay structures will deliver increases in earnings for academics substantially higher than the 6.5 per cent quoted by the unions."
The breakdown of potential benefits to individual categories of academic staff came as the Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe dug in their heels over the two-year pay deal. Three non-academic unions -Unison, Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union -have accepted the offer.
A special conference of the AUT last week said the offer was "unacceptable" in its current form. Delegates voted to prepare for industrial action while continuing to push for further talks on improvements to the package.
AUT general secretary Sally Hunt said: "We are committed to the negotiation process and, with goodwill, believe that the sector can be saved from a damaging dispute."
She did not dispute the employers' figures on the type of rises available under the deal, but said they were in no way guaranteed for all academics.
"It is not potential headline figures for a few that are at issue but the long-term career progress of all academic and related staff," she said.
Staff will reach the higher pay levels only when their universities individually undertake exercises to "evaluate" all staff jobs and move individuals to one of five new grades - from junior researcher to professor.
Ms Hunt said: "Jobs could be downgraded as well as promoted."
Natfhe is divided over the deal. While its higher education executive committee recommended that the union remain in talks and seek reassurances over the plans before balloting, this line was rejected by regional branch chiefs at a special conference last week. They voted to reject the deal and to move towards a ballot for industrial action.
Natfhe national official Andy Pike said the union was concerned that members could not be sure that individual universities would not simply impose worse local packages under the flexibility allowed in the framework.
It is also concerned that some of the increases would be dependent on new "contribution" points, a form of discretionary performance-related pay.
United we stand on better pay
Proposed pay increases
July 2003 Aug 2004* Increase
July 2003 Aug 2004* Increase
* Job -evaluation/role-analysis is likely to lead to upward regrading for staff and, overall, to increase average earnings by an additional 3-5%