Local agreements have sent salaries at some universities up by 30% as institutions vie to attract the best and brightest staff. Phil Baty reports
Some UK academics will see their salaries soar by nearly 30 per cent as historic reforms confirm the arrival of the free market as a force in higher education pay.
Eleven separate deals, agreed locally between individual universities and the Association of University Teachers, contain some startling pay rises for key academic job grades. As a result, the union said, some lecturers would earn up to £57,000 more over ten years.
A clear hierarchy of the best-paying institutions is emerging.
The dramatic variations in the pay offered by different institutions show that some vice-chancellors have chosen to break through national pay levels to compete for the best academic staff by offering higher salaries.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, which favours national pay bargaining, said employers had created a "labour market". "We are determined to exploit the competition between institutions to get better deals for members," she said.
Ms Hunt said the impressive rises agreed so far, which were secured after an AUT strike action last year, set a benchmark for the rest of the sector.
About 80 per cent of universities have not yet signed deals.
The deals - which have been reached at some Russell Group universities including Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester - Jare among the first to be struck under the 2004 Framework Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures, which is the biggest financial shake-up of academic careers for 40 years.
The reforms, which must be implemented at every institution by August 2006, create a single pay spine for all staff, from porters to professors, in old and new universities. All staff are undergoing job evaluations to size up their roles and responsibilities and to determine where they will be placed on the new pay spine.
There are five nationally agreed job grades for academic staff - from academic one (junior researcher level) to academic five (professorial level). Employers are free to choose where on the spine these grades are placed. This will determine the minimum and maximum salaries for each grade.
Under the agreed deals, minimum lecturer salaries range from £25,633 at Liverpool University (an 8.1 per cent increase over the 2004 level) to Pounds 30,607 at Essex University (a 29 per cent rise).
The maximum pay for lecturers, the level at which many academics are stuck, varies less dramatically, and increases have been less spectacular. It ranges from £38,772 at Liverpool (a 10.3 per cent rise) and £37,643 at Manchester and Ulster universities (5 per cent) to the nationally agreed Pounds 36,546 (a 2 per cent rise) at the others.
Maximum pay for senior lecturer varies from £49,115 at Liverpool (up 15.4 per cent) to £46,296 at Manchester (up 8.7 per cent) and £43,638 at most others.
The AUT said that under the framework deal a senior lecturer at Liverpool would earn £26,849 more over seven years than he or she would at present.
The union said that at Sheffield, Essex and Cambridge universities, a lecturer would earn £57,615 more over ten years.
A spokesperson for Liverpool said it had "reached agreement on a positive pay agenda that does make considerable investment in staff salaries".
Cambridge has agreed the biggest increase to its minimum professorial salary, setting it at £53,670 - 23 per cent above the 2004 level. It is followed closely by Liverpool at £50,589. The lowest the level has been set at is £44,947.
The deals had been hammered out after the AUT's strike last year, which secured a memorandum of understanding for staff in old universities to ensure that the framework was implemented more favourably, Ms Hunt said.
"In every AUT agreement, the new salaries are higher than those recommended in the framework by the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association," she said.
But Ms Hunt warned that the union would not rest on the deals it had secured and would fight for more investment in staff.
She said the deals would not halt plans for a major campaign, run in conjunction with lecturers' union Natfhe, for more national rises in 2006.
The unions are demanding that a third of the £1 billion income expected from top-up fees next year go towards salaries.
Natfhe said that there was less variation in pay levels in the few deals secured at post-92 universities, where vice-chancellors appeared to be sticking more closely to the basic national elements of the framework.
Andy Pike, national official for higher education at Natfhe, said: "Natfhe believes that the framework will provide pay structures that are transparent and equality proof, but to increase academic pay to a satisfactory level, significant new investment is required at national level."
Natfhe said that its biggest fear was that post-92 universities appeared reluctant to implement the framework and that significant numbers of institutions might not meet the August 2006 deadline.
"There is little evidence of any appetite for implementation among employers who view the agreement as an opportunity to save money rather than invest in their staff," Mr Pike said.
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of Ucea, said that at least 18 universities had signed or were close to signing local deals, and that many more were on the brink of completing agreements, well in time for the 2006 deadline.
She said that most institutions had indicated that they were unlikely to vary the national framework a great deal.
But Ms Prudence said: "We are particularly pleased... that the freedom for institutions to address local pay issues is now being welcomed."
Essex offers top rewards to lure high-fliers
Essex University has broken out of the national pay scales with a local deal designed to attract top academic talent early in their careers.
From next August, the minimum lecturers' starting salary at Essex will be £30,607 - 29 per cent higher than the national level in August 2004. Essex will pay the same rate as Cambridge University at this grade, and more than research-intensive rivals Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield universities.
Essex also has deals worth 17 per cent more than the 2004 national levels for junior researchers and junior academic-related staff.
The university said this week that the final deal was still subject to a formal ballot of Association of University Teachers members. But it added:
"We can confirm that the minimum salary point for lecturers and research officers will be well above the minimum on the original scales. This is because we wish to offer competitive salaries to attract top-quality staff entering an academic career."
Sarah Manningpress, Essex research and governance planning manager and AUT representative for her department, said the pay deal was great news. "We should be in a really strong position to attract new talent, especially compared with other research-led institutions," she said.
Ms Manningpress said that salary levels had been so low that Essex was getting applications for junior administrative posts from non-graduates and was losing talent to the private sector and to other public-sector organisations.
"If we are fighting for suitably qualified staff, we have got to offer them a good starting salary."