Arguments of merit

July 9, 1999

Peter Humphreys returns to the old chestnut of performance-related pay for academic staff. He appears unaware that, before his arrival in the sector, the last government imposed such a system on new universities, withholding funding until institutions delivered a scheme.

The outcome at my university (Westminster) was outcry. All the Natfhe branch had to do was to manage a scheme nominating everyone for an award, and share out the "dosh" from the "winners" to everyone equally. The feelings of an alien imposition of a culture that failed to understand the value of collegiality and teamwork were very strong. We were willing to put up a fight against such divisiveness and we won - the system was withdrawn.

If there is any hope of PRP motivating staff (which we believe not to be the case in HE), then it "should be based on the foundation of a sound pay system and accepted salary levels. It should not be introduced if what is really required is a general increase in wage rates" (ACAS, Introduction to Payment Systems).

Humphreys makes much of the annual incremental system. We agree that such long pay scales have major problems, in particular regarding equal opportunities. He fails to mention that over two-thirds of lecturers in new universities are stuck at the top of their scale and that promotions are far rarer than in old universities.

We need a system where management understands what motivates academic staff and employs personnel professionals who assist in empowering all staff to achieve their optimum, and agree proper promotion systems and offer sufficient pay rewards.

What academics see at present is a mass increase in workloads and student numbers, without any commensurate reward, and a new breed of personnel officers who treat them with contempt.

Jill Jones, Chair of higher education, Natfhe

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