Ask the panel

January 19, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

The head of my research team was poached early last year by a rival university. He is an internationally recognised figure and had been approached by a number of universities in the past. This offer was simply too good to turn down. As part of his research team, I was pretty much expected to move with him - and did so. This involved a great deal of inconvenience as I have a young family. However, since moving I have been infuriated to discover that while my boss received relocation expenses and a handsome pay rise, I did not. I only found this out by chance. Should this information not be publicly available in some way?

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "There is no obligation on the univer-sity to publish confidential personal data such as salary details about other members of staff. Indeed, to do so would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

"With regard to the salary package given to your colleague, unless the university has a relocation policy that defines the amount of relocation expenses new recruits can be paid, it is entitled to negotiate this with the individual; and the salary on appointment will be based on a variety of factors such as the grade of the post and the skills and experience of the indi-vidual."

* Our panellist from the University and College Union takes a rather different stance.

She says: "Relocation packages, as part of any remuneration package, should be as transparent as possible so that potential staff members are fully aware of the offer being made to them. If a university does have a policy, it should be available and you may be able to access it using the Freedom of Information Act.

She goes on: "Best practice would be to have the policy published, for example on the website, and advertised to all job applicants. Some institutions do follow such practice but many, as you have discovered, do not. Some institutions may not even have an agreed policy and may leave it to individual negotiations to decide who does, and does not, get a relocation package. Of course, such an approach is likely to lead to inconsistencies and potential discrimination.

"It would be interesting to find out if your university has published an impact assessment of their relocation 'policy' as required under both race and disability legislation. UCU's position is that relocation packages, if made available, should be trans-parent, justifiable and made avail-able across the board."

She adds: "In terms of the pay rise, staff should be appointed to an appropriate grade - one that reflects the requirements of the post as laid out in the national academic role profiles. It would be worth checking that you have been correctly graded by referencing the role profiles. If the head of your research team received a pay rise because they have been appointed to a more highly graded post, this should be reflected in the requirements of their new post.

"In both cases, the university should be aware that equal pay considerations may also arise, and it needs to be able to demonstrate that both relocation expenses and starting salaries do not undermine the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.

"On a more fundamental point, the UCU believes that the expectation that research staff 'follow' when a particular research leader chooses to move jobs is feudal. Institutions need to take their obligations as the employer of research staff more seriously and give more consideration as to how they deploy their research staff and resources."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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