Catch-up pay is necessary to keep up quality

January 29, 1999

This week pay review bodies for teachers, nurses, doctors and others have gone to the cabinet, and the prime minister, Tony Blair, has reiterated his liking for performance-related pay in the public sector.

Where does this leave higher education?

Pay claims for this year are running at 10 per cent. Optimistic, but the case for a catch-up settlement is strong. Unfortunately there is no independent arbiter making the case, no bodies on trollies in the lecture halls, no clear signs of recruiting difficulties.

The Bett committee, set up after the Dearing report and heavily burdened with stakeholders, is proceeding with glacial slowness. This provides an excuse for inaction.

Both employers and staff hope that the government can be persuaded - by facts (employers) or threats (staff) - into funding a catch-up pay award, if not this year then next. The government may be tempted to listen to the noise level and conclude that compared with nurses or teachers, where recruiting difficulties are manifest, there is little need to bother about higher education.

This would be a mistake. The quality and reputation of UK higher education are under threat from long years of eroding resources. The introduction of fees should have provided the additional cash needed to pay staff better. Instead it has gone to offset the Treasury's bills. The government should not kid itself that there are no bad consequences from continuing to grind the faces of higher education staff. A valuable national industry is at risk.

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