Analysis: Hefce sounds alarm on pay

October 11, 2002

Academic salaries must rise and fees will have to go up to keep universities competitive, two major studies conclude this week. The THES reports

Academic pay will have to rise if universities are to attract the extra staff needed to meet the government's target for expanding student numbers, ministers were told this week.

In a new study, the English funding council warns of "severe difficulties in increasing staff numbers unless specific measures are taken".

The funding council studied past trends in staffing and extrapolated them to 2010, when half of young people are expected to have some experience of higher education. Through the decade up to 2010, the size of the population of young people will grow.

It warns that the system rests on a knife edge. To increase staff numbers by 1 per cent a year, the average number of recruits has to increase by 17 per cent above the rate needed simply to maintain numbers. To increase staff numbers by 3 per cent a year, the number of recruits has to rise by 60 per cent above the replacement rate.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "What it shows is that if we move away from a steady state, then we have got to start recruiting much faster than at present. The rate of recruitment needs to go up very quickly in those institutions that expand - that is where these findings are very significant."

Tom Wilson, head of the universities department at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "Hefce's careful analysis shows beyond any doubt that 'special measures' - ie major pay rises - are needed to achieve the 50 per cent expansion target. Otherwise the extra students will be greeted by empty lecture halls and seminar rooms.

"Hefce's forecasts should ring alarm bells in Whitehall. Just to increase staff numbers by 1 per cent per year, which is the current slow growth rate, would require a massive 17 per cent hike in recruitment. To meet the expansion being demanded by government needs a jump of 60 per cent - from 5,160 per year to 8,448 per year - for each of the next ten years. This is polite Hefce code for action to raise pay.

"Action is also needed to speed equality. On current trends, women will make up only half of all lecturers by 2025, senior lecturers by 2032 and professors by 2040. Women academics should not have to wait another 38 years to reach full equality."

But a spokesman for the Association of University Teachers criticised the study for relying on permanent staff and ignoring those on temporary contracts.

The report, Academic Staff, Trends and Projections , warns that the main problem is one of recruitment rather than of retention. It says that "about half the retention problems that have been identified relate to retaining staff at a particular institution rather than within the sector as a whole". It says: "Given the widespread difficulties institutions are already having recruiting staff, achieving the growth in numbers may well require special measures."

Mr Bekhradnia warned that the proposed 33 per cent increase in the number of students by 2010 demanded an extra 17,000 staff and that expansion could not be achieved through further efficiency gains.

He said: "There should be no question of any further per capita funding. On the contrary, additional students coming with lower qualifications need more money and better staff-to-student ratios."

The report's surprise finding was that there is no demographic timebomb. It looked at only permanent staff working more than 40 per cent of a full-time week and it had been expected that older workers would be overrepresented in this group.

But the report concludes: "Contrary to initial expectationsI the current age structure of academics will not lead to an overall increase in leaving rates between now and the end of the decade."

Mr Bekhradnia said: "It really does dispose of some of the contentions that we are faced with a demographic timebomb."


* There was a 6.5 per cent increase in numbers on permanent contracts

* The proportion of staff on temporary contracts was stable at about 14 per cent

* In mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering, the number of people on permanent contracts declined

* The proportion of permanent staff on professorial grades increased from 12 per cent to 17 per cent, while the proportion on lecturer grades declined

* The proportion of permanent staff aged over 50 rose from 35 per cent to 41 per cent

* The proportion of women on permanent contracts increased from 26 per cent to 31 per cent.

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