Battle is on to stop more funding cuts

June 6, 1997

University pay is a disgrace. Hay Management Consultants' survey published yesterday shows in its full awfulness the extent to which staff at all levels in universities have paid for recent expansion out of their own pockets.

The only surprise, given women's willingness to work for less than male colleagues, is that universities still employ any men. On the contrary, for all the lousy pay (Susan Greenfield's promotion to the rank of professor by Oxford did not increase her salary), fewer than one professor in 13 is female (page 19).

This week's survey points to the extent to which working in universities is still agreeable enough for people to do despite the money. Ancient universities exploit their prestige to underpay manual staff in a way which makes a powerful case for a minimum wage. New universities are giving professorial titles but not matching even the low salaries of older universities.

Only one group seems to command the same sort of pay inside universities as outside: administrators and librarians. Academic librarians are the elite of the profession. They are not paid much, but librarians elsewhere are paid less. And the administrators? Ah, no wonder this group is so resented. For good administrators universities do offer as good a career as comparable public and private sector employers.

If nothing is done about the levels of pay in universities, no one should be surprised if the bright and talented people who have delivered the extraordinary expansion of recent years decide that, since they are only paid half a salary, they will only put in half the time. Consultancy, broadcasting, private practice, moonlighting in private colleges, and working in the software companies on Cambridge's new Microsoft campus will all displace time available for students.

But if pay goes up without universities' income increasing, the number of redundancies seen so far will seem a mere trickle. Student-staff ratios will leap and conditions for students will worsen sharply.

Either way, working in universities will cease to be as agreeable as it is now. The exodus, small at present, could accelerate alarmingly as the knowledge-based economy expands (as everyone hopes it will) bringing new opportunities for clever people.

What to do? There must be more money. But where from? On July 2 we will see how the bargaining between the Department for Education and Employment and the Treasury has worked out - though this budget is expected to be only the first indication, not the full three-year settlement. Present signs are that the best higher education can hope for is to hold on to the money it has already.

There is not likely to be more until Dearing has reported; until those in the Labour party who hate the idea of charging students have taken on board the cost implications of the party's nursery, primary and further education promises; and until a new funding regime for higher education is in place.

Preliminary indications suggest that Dearing may well not recommend a pay review body, as supported by the Association of University Teachers and others. Even a possible Dearing recommendation of a new inquiry into university pay would not be welcomed by the Government. Salaries that reflected staff workloads, and the expectations of people outside academe, would be beyond the means of the present system unless new sources of funding open up.

Now and for the next two years the battle is to stop cuts beyond those already in spending plans inherited from the Conservatives. Given the state of further education, it will be rough going.

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