Can't this pay offer be improved?

August 27, 1999

The pay dispute in higher education may look like a wrangle between a determined beggar and a passer-by with no money. But in this case the chosen victim cannot just walk away.

Instead, autumn is likely to bring Natfhe into the argument alongside the Association of University Teachers. The AUT claims some success already, saying that its boycott of admissions work last week publicised the problem without hurting applicants.

Whether AUT members have any taste for an autumn of boycotting significant administrative tasks is more doubtful. Anything that risks a low RAE score for one's own department is a direct threat to an academic's job.

For the employers, the unions' threats hold few fears that universities will come to a halt like the car factories and coal mines of old. But now might be the time to reconsider whether the offer on the table is the best that can be produced, given the introduction of fees, new money available for research and heavy demand for university places.

In the longer term, the way forward must be through moves to find money to match the full Bett proposal on pay - as Natfhe is demanding at this year's TUC (Letters, page 13). But in the meantime, both sides must ponder whether there is any means by which the latest pay offer -albeit above inflation - can be bettered.

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