The funding crisis provoked by the November Budget is so severe that lecturers' annual pay claim may take a back seat, Joanna de Groot, president of the Association of University Teachers warned its winter council in London yesterday.
Dr de Groot told council that the debate over pay must now be widened to address the "butchery" inflicted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which she described as "the most damaging misguided assault on universities in 20 years".
An emergency summit was held between the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and higher education unions, including the National Union of Students, last Friday - an unprecedented collaboration reflecting the seriousness of the cuts. Agreement to consider mounting a joint campaign to reverse the cuts was made.
Dr De Groot said: "We are past what even the most compliant funding council member, the most eager to be knighted vice chancellor will tolerate. Furthermore, staff, students and institutional leaders have gone beyond outcry to make an historic commitment to work together, as well as separately, to make a public issue out of this grave threat to the public interest."
The campaign focus would be political and public and be designed to end public ignorance and confusion as to the real nature of the crisis in universities.
Dr de Groot said the "irresponsible evasions by politicians of all parties" of any serious attempt at adequate policy for the sector would now be confronted.
But academic pay was still very much a key issue, she insisted. The association's draft salary claim for 1996/97 includes reference to the need for a national pay review body as the appropriate means of deciding salary levels for academics.
The claim seeks a substantial increase on all salary points in recognition of the crisis in pay and a demonstrated willingness to negotiate fundamental reform in the pay structure.
The claim states: "Our national salary negotiation forum is plainly overshadowed by Government funding decisions and pay policy but it remains crucially important to recognise that non-Government funding is important and the final decision rests with those who manage universities."
Inflation is sharply up, the claim notes, and in view of proven productivity gains, the AUT stresses that an increase well beyond the rate of inflation would be permissible within the Chancellor's policy.