Better pay at all levels

March 22, 2002

V-cs' pay is justified but reward lower down must increase to retain the best staff, says Philip Love

Vice-chancellors of UK universities lead multimillion pound institutions, collectively employing more than 300,000 people and spending £13 billion a year. Together, they are responsible for educating more than 1.8 million students.

Their salaries are on a par with those of chief executives in other public sector institutions and are considerably less than the salaries earned by chief executives running similar-sized businesses in the private sector. Recent critical articles on vice-chancellors' salaries have not reflected this. In one THES article, the headline figures used were also skewed by a minority of end-of-employment payments that are unrepresentative of the majority.

Publicly available figures from the Universities and Colleges Employers'

Association show that 30 per cent of vice-chancellors and principals are paid less than £100,000, with 56 per cent being paid less than £120,000. In accordance with proper principles of governance, these salary levels are determined institution by institution, by remuneration committees involving lay members well-versed in scrutinising value for money - not by vice-chancellors and principals themselves.

The UK has a world-class university system. Appropriate levels of reward, to attract and retain the high-calibre leaders required to deliver the shared goals of the sector and government, are essential to ensure the long-term success of the economy.

But recruitment and retention of the academic and support staff needed to maintain university excellence are also crucial. The higher education sector, with vice-chancellors to the fore, is well aware of the paramount need for reform and improvement of its pay arrangements. Our staff are the most essential element of the teaching and research infrastructure, and the UK's future international reputation in university teaching and research depends on high-quality and highly motivated employees. Vice-chancellors are working together with the UCEA to bring about a forward-looking agenda for reform and to improve higher education pay generally.

Last June, university employers reached agreement with the trade unions representing staff in the sector on new pay-bargaining machinery to replace the multiplicity of outmoded arrangements inherited from a different era.

The new negotiating machinery for the sector replaces the previous ten separate bargaining groups and brings all of the higher education unions together around a single table. Work is now in hand under its auspices to design pay structures that will better serve the needs of diverse higher education institutions in future. Good progress is being made on a whole range of issues. These include the development of a single pay spine for all staff covered by national pay bargaining; equal pay audit guidance that will help institutions to deliver equal pay for work of equal value; and work on new pay structures underpinned by role analysis and job evaluation.

This week's meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff agreed some real milestones on the road to change. Employers, together with the unions, are working together to put forward the best possible case to the government for funding to underpin pay modernisation in the higher education sector. As part of that, the UCEA will publish a worrying report next month on present recruitment and retention difficulties.

Universities UK identified modern pay structures, recruitment and retention of top-quality staff, and enhanced staff management, development and training schemes as key human resource investment needs in its submission last November to the government's present spending review, with a cost tag of £1.2 billion over the three-year spending review period.

Our universities and colleges are among the finest in the world and are essential for the continued success of the UK today in regional, national and international terms. Higher education is regarded as crucial to wealth creation and vital to the development of a knowledge-based economy. But it will not be able to deliver without properly paid staff at all levels.

Philip Love is chair of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool.

* Is v-cs' pay justified? Email soapbox@thes.co.uk

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