A sad salary tale of two lecturers

August 20, 1999

The Bett committee report on pay and conditions found big salary variations in higher education.

It proposed streamlining negotiations by reducing the ten negotiating groups to a single national council and recommended a single pay spine for academic staff, and a real-terms increase of up to 20 per cent in minimum pay levels for certain grades.

The THES found two lecturers whose pay illustrates Bett's arguments and which have affected their outlook on the dispute.

John Drummond, president of Dundee University's Association of University Teachers and a clinical dental lecturer, is not taking part in the AUT's industrial action. This is not because he does not support the union's stance, but because it does not affect him.

"The dispute isn't about the pay for clinical academics. My pay is determined by the Doctors and Dentists Review Body and then translated into academic salaries," he said.

Dr Drummond, 42, is a senior lecturer and earns Pounds 46,000, which will rise to Pounds 50,000 in October. The top of the senior lecturer scale is almost Pounds 62,000. He would like to see a comparable independent pay review body for all staff.

"The benefit is that it de-politicises pay, and means it's really not something that ordinary clinical academics need to worry too much about on a year-to-year basis. Salaries tend to keep pace with inflation and the comparable professions," he said. Higher education would face a recruitment crisis were clinical academics not paid on the same scales as National Health Service staff.

He believes the review body also benefits employers, enabling the NHS and universities to press government for the necessary funds to meet the pay award.

Robbie Mochrie, an economics lecturer at Heriot-Watt University, earns Pounds 23,000. It is a little more than he earned almost a decade ago as a legal assistant with the Bank of Scotland, which he joined in 1988 as a graduate trainee.

Dr Mochrie, 34, has taken part in the AUT's admissions boycott, refusing to act as admissions officer in the university's school of management.

"This is not intended to inconvenience students and delay the admissions process but to highlight the discrepancy between the pay that academics receive and the pay for those who are similarly qualified," he said.

Had he stayed with the bank, he would now certainly have reached the lower rungs of management, he says, on a salary of about Pounds 34,000 with a non contributory pension scheme, backed by perks such a cheap mortgage and free medical insurance.

Instead, Dr Mochrie went on to take a masters degree and PhD, although between the two he was urged to consider international banking, and offered a job in financial journalism.

He said: "An academic is able to think about very large, open questions with no obvious answers. The opportunities to explore ideas are much more limited elsewhere. That's what attracts me to academia. But I'm increasingly aware of the pay disparity. There are options outside that I'm considering."

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