Equality requires commitment

April 26, 2002

Higher education lacks the necessary structures to address pay inequality, argues Malcolm Keight.

English higher education institutions have been asked by the Higher Education Funding Council to produce human-resource strategies. These must include measures to pursue equality of opportunity, which in turn should include job-evaluation schemes.

Equal pay and equality of opportunity require immediate attention. The Joint National Committee for Higher Education Staffs has agreed to issue advice on the selection of job-evaluation schemes, but the Association of University Teachers could not support this move. While independent action on job evaluation may provide institutions with a defence against claims of pay discrimination, it will not, in itself, resolve the problems of equal pay or equality of opportunity.

The Equal Pay Task Force reported that 25-50 per cent of the pay differential between men and women is due to discrimination. Analysis of data for higher education shows that gender pay discrepancies are greater where pay levels are determined locally than when national pay scales apply.

For instance, lack of equal pay for equal value is not seen as a major problem in school teaching where there is an established national salary structure. But encouragement to pursue local pay structures is likely to lead to more, not fewer, discrepancies.

In the National Health Service, a job evaluation scheme is being developed across three different national grading structures. It has been necessary to reconcile these arrangements with the recommendations of the pay-review bodies and work is being done to address the need to encourage and reward professional development that is acquired over long periods of time. It is this last issue that is of particular concern to the AUT in higher education.

Academic and other professional jobs in higher education usually require a range of flexible skills that can be applied to a series of tasks that themselves vary over time. Most established job-evaluation schemes are based on what is referred to as factor analysis and measure "outputs" in terms of responsibilities that describe a job at one point in time. These systems cannot deal with jobs where the skills required for one project may differ substantially from those required for the next, nor can they measure jobs that have the potential for staff to develop work over a long period of time.

If equal pay for work of equal value is to be achieved throughout higher education, we should first concentrate on the wider causes of discrimination. There is a need for robust procedures for:

* Appointment of staff

* Determination of salaries

* Fair treatment in the determination of work loads, ensuring that those activities recognised for promotion are accessible to all staff

* Opportunities for training and professional development

* Fair and transparent consideration for the promotion of staff.

Also, all of those responsible for taking decisions on these matters must be trained in how to use the procedures and be made aware of how bias and prejudice can be introduced into decision-making.

All of this needs to operate within a job-grading structure that is transparent and easily understood. This can best be achieved through a nationally agreed and published grading structure. Unfortunately, higher education institutions have not distinguished themselves by the degree of openness with which they deal with these processes and so poor practice has developed. This is the consequence of existing power structures and a lack of commitment within institutions.

But starting with job evaluation is to look down the wrong end of the telescope. Higher education employers should look to clear, "equality proofed", national grading structures to provide the starting point to deal with the real problems of pay discrimination.

Malcolm Keight is assistant general secretary of the AUT.

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