The government has again dashed lecturers' hopes of extra cash to fund the Bett pay recommendations days before the chancellor's pre-budget statement.
Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks made it clear to MPs last week that academic pay was a matter for universities, not the government. Lecturers' unions and opposition politicians think there is no hope of extra for pay in chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-budget statement on Tuesday.
Mr Wicks, answering a question by Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis, said: "We are grateful for the work of the Bett committee but pay rates for university academics are a matter for their employers - the universities - and those who represent the sector."
Hopes are fading that the government will ever provide the cash necessary to fund the Bett recommendations. The report, which took 18 months to prepare and cost more than Pounds 400,000, said that the government should pick up Pounds 380 million of the total estimated Pounds 580 million Bett bill. It said that it would cost about Pounds 450 million a year to end pay discrimination against women.
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman, said the government's attitude was a disgrace, as the Bett report placed so much importance on ending pay discrimination in the sector. The report said that discrimination was so prevalent that universities risked prosecution.
Dr Harris said: "It certainly looks like the government is insisting that there is to be no additional funding for the implementation of Bett.
"It is disgraceful that in the week the Equal Opportunity Commission's Equal Pay Campaign was launched in the presence of the education secretary, his own department refuses to recognise the outrageous pay gap.
"If we are to attract and retain the best people in higher education then they have to be sufficiently rewarded. It is difficult to see how our lecturers can continue to focus on building a quality higher education system when they are continually fighting against budget stringencies."
Lecturers' unions realised there would be no extra money for Bett this year and next because the comprehensive spending review had already set down the spending parameters for higher education from 1999-2001.
But they had hoped that there would be extra cash in 2001-02, the third year of the CSR, which is still to be announced. They fear that the statement by Mr Wicks, one of many in which the government has distanced itself from Bett, may rule out Bett cash in the third year.
A spokeswoman for the Association of University Teachers said: "We have always felt that the government's response, or lack of it, has been deeply disappointing. The Bett committee was part of the Dearing recommendations and ... should have been respected in the same way."