Academics are more deserving of a pay rise than firefighters, former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker told this week's House of Lords debate on the financial situation facing British universities, writes Alison Goddard.
He said: "If we have a group in our society that needs a 40 per cent pay rise, it is not the firemen, it is our university staff."
Lord Baker also criticised the government's target of getting half of young people into higher education by 2010. "It means 362,000 more students and 17,000 more academics. Where is (the government) going to attract another 17,000 academics from, into one of the most lowly paid groups in society?"
Lord Baker gave his support to top-up fees and spoke in favour of a loan system under which graduates paid for their tuition after graduation rather than a graduate tax, which he said would be unworkable.
Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said that universities needed to have the resources to pay those who worked in them adequately but that any scheme to resolve the financial situation should avoid creating a two-tier system.
She said the government focus on "top" universities was dangerous. "No one would ever argue that all universities are the same. But this does not equate to some universities being good universities and others therefore being bad universities."
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Smith of Clifton said Britain should adopt a Californian-style system of regional confederations of junior, intermediate and senior institutions, rather than introducing top-up fees.