Bett warns of staffing crisis

January 26, 2001

"Sticking plaster" increases in higher education funding will do nothing to stop a looming crisis in lecturer recruitment, MPs were warned this week.

Sir Michael Bett, who produced the Bett report into academic pay in 1999, told the education select committee on Wednesday that poor academic pay, coupled with student debt problems, was turning today's graduates away from a career as a lecturer.

Sir Michael said there would be an exodus of lecturers from universities in 2005, as the generation of academics who began lecturing in the higher education boom of the 1960s reaches retirement age.

"There is a crisis on the horizon... (we must) bring young teachers through now, before 2005," he said.

A bright student who is considering an academic career will graduate owing up to £12,000, Sir Michael said. As a PhD student, they will earn about £7,000 a year. Finally, the new lecturer earns about £18,000 a year. At the same time, he said, they see their university contemporaries, who left after their first degrees, earning more than £20,000.

"That is a very daunting prospect for those who want to stay in academia," Sir Michael added.

But Sir Michael, who was giving evidence to the committee as part of its higher education inquiry into student dropout rates, said that student support was a subsidiary issue to that of maintaining quality. He said: "It is no good supporting students in a second-rate system."

Sir Michael warned that the government's continued failure to adequately support higher education teaching would lead to higher tuition fees.

Committee members also heard that too much emphasis and money were directed at research and too little at teaching. MPs were told this had an impact on academic workloads, as young lecturers struggled to meet onerous teaching demands, while doing research that could bring millions of pounds in grants to their departments through the research assessment exercise.

On Tuesday, Diana Green, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: "We have a system that is skewed, where the rewards are greater for research."

Sir Howard Newby, president of Universities UK, who gave evidence last Thursday, said that most academics would say the RAE had affected the quality of lecturers' teaching and the student experience.

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