INDUSTRIAL action by university staff now looks less likely following a marginally revised pay offer from employers this week.
But union negotiators said they remained disappointed at the deal, which gives staff a 2 per cent rise for the first six months with an additional 1.8 per cent for the rest of the year.
Under the previous offer, staff would have needed to wait eight months, rather than six to receive the full 3.8 per cent.
Higher education unions said the new staged rise, which pushes the offer up from 2.6 per cent to 2.9 per cent across the year, still remains well below inflation forecast at 3.5 per cent.
Liz Allen, Natfhe universities negotiator, said: "It doesn't look particularly attractive to us, given that our members still have to wait until September before they need a settlement. We were clear that we could not see ourselves recommending this offer to our members."
But she said the union had had positive discussions with employers over submitting matters of common concern to the independent review committee, set up to review pay and conditions for higher education staff.
A spokesman for the Association of University Teachers said: "It will be very difficult to persuade members in the old and new universities to accept the offer, even with this marginal improvement."
Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said: "This is our final offer. It is the maximum universities and colleges can afford within overall funding limits and inequitable, given the pay awards for other public sector groups and the previous underlying level of inflation."
* Members of the independent review committee have invited evidence by late June from the spectrum of higher education staff.
The committee, set up post-Dearing to examine pay and conditions, met for the fourth time this week to identifythe main issues. These will be pay levels and structure, conditions of service and means of determining the above.
Peter Thorpe, secretary to the committee, said it was not just dealing with whether or not academic staff have lost out in pay. The committee plans to take oral evidence and gather statistical data over the summer with a view to publishing a report by December. A website will be set up to collect responses.