TOP industrialist Sir Michael Bett is to chair the new independent pay review committee for higher education, recommended in the Dearing report, it was announced yesterday.
Sir Michael, first civil service commissioner and pro-chancellor of Aston University since 1993, was chosen by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, with the help of the Department for Education and Employment.
His task will be to make recommendations on a framework for negotiating pay and conditions of service and to consider whether pay levels need adjusting.
The committee, to comprise 15 members nominated by the UCEA and trade unions, was originally expected to report by April. But delays in appointing a chairman have pushed the deadline back.
UCEA chief executive Peter Humphreys said Sir Michael had "the ideal background and experience to be able to guide the committee through its vital work in the coming months".
Sir Michael has already shown himself willing to give the government advice it may not like to hear, warning ministers after the election in May not to fill too many Whitehall posts with new Labour people.
His appointment has been welcomed by lecturers, who say his experience as chairman of the nurses' pay review body for five years gives him the ideal "diplomatic skills" for the job.
A former BT executive and now director of Cellnet, he has served in personnel roles at the Engineering Employers' Federation, the General Electric Company and the BBC and is president of the Institute of Personnel and Development.
He was a member of the armed forces pay review body from 1983 to 1987, chaired the nurses' pay review body between 1990 and 1995 and served on the social security advisory committee for two years.
In 1994 he was asked by the Ministry of Defence to examine manpower, career and pay structures in the armed services. He made 150 recommendations, several of which were extremely controversial and only a handful were approved.
He has also been chairman of the TEC national council.
Sir Michael, who will be 63 next week, was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
He said his first job would be to define the problem. "The fact that the different powers that be in higher education have very different ideas as to the way ahead won't make it easy," he said.
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "He is most able and exceptionally well placed to understand the intricacies of the world of higher education employment. He may, however, need the wisdom of Solomon to bridge the differences and to push through to the end the original terms of reference set out by Sir Ron."