Lecturers' leaders have cast serious doubt on two projects designed to improve staff development and job evaluation in universities and colleges.
The Association of University Teachers and the Association of University and College Lecturers say the projects may be a waste of time and effort. They also fear that one or both may open the door to crude job evaluation schemes with implications for lecturers' pay and workloads.
The first project is being undertaken by the Universities and Colleges Staff Development Agency, an agency of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals. It is a feasibility study for the introduction to higher education institutions of vocational qualifications in staff development and training.
Joanna de Groot, immediate past president of the AUT and a member of the UCoSDA project's steering committee, has doubts over its eventual application to higher education. She said: "It remains to be made clear to me what use it will be other than as a descriptive model."
Tony Pointon, the AUCL's national adviser, said: "The UCoSDA report is largely written in staff-development-speak. It will be a foreign language to most of those who will be required to have their activities codified under a job evaluation programme."
Patricia Partington, chairwoman of the UCoSDA steering committee, stressed that the project had nothing to do with job evaluation and said: "It is complex and I am not saying we will have all the answers. But universities and colleges have an obligation to provide continuing staff development."
The second project is being carried out by the University Competences Consortium (COMCON), set up by the Educational Competences Consortium Ltd in 1994, to explore ways of analysing job content in higher education. It comprises 109 universities and higher education institutions. COMCON has commissioned management consultants Towers Perrin to design a competence-based job evaluation scheme.
COMCON says that the evaluation scheme, which is due to be offered to institutions early next year, would be available on computer disc. This could allow staff to evaluate their own jobs through a question and answer process which the computer then "scores".
Professor Pointon said that any such scheme would prove an unreliable and blunt tool in view of academics' highly variable job criteria. He also warned that evaluation would provide a mere "snapshot", ignoring the ever-changing and adapting roles of institutions and their staff.
COMCON project manager Pam Hampshire said: "We are aware of union worries and of the difficulties. This is why we are developing a new approach and not simply adapting a traditional job evaluation scheme and all that entails."