Pay modernisation for Scottish academics has been given the green light thanks to a record increase in funding for higher education north of the border.
Jim Wallace, Scotland's lifelong learning minister, told The Times Higher this week that the recent announcement of a 30 per cent increase in spending on higher education up to 2008 meant that Scotland could now afford to implement the new pay framework adopted in England.
Mr Wallace confirmed that pay modernisation could progress. He added: "I will be saying that in my letter of guidance (to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council) at the end of this year."
Scottish universities had adopted the national deadline of August 2006 for the implementation of the pay framework, which places all staff on a single pay spine and introduces an element of performance-related pay known as contribution points.
But now that the money has been confirmed, the Association of University Teachers Scotland is challenging institutions to "go full speed ahead" on pay modernisation, in advance of the deadline.
David Bleiman, the AUT's Scottish official, said: "Although most Scottish universities may say that August 2006 is their target, in truth they can afford to implement much sooner than that."
He said the main constraint was the need to set up local implementation arrangements in partnerships with the unions. "University principals should be worrying about whether they are taking urgent enough action to spend this money in a timely and appropriate way, to satisfy ministers that the monies provided have been well used to maintain Scotland's pre-eminence in higher education," he said.
A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said Scottish universities "were committed to the pay modernisation agenda" and would "do their best to implement the deal by the 2006 deadline". But it did not look as if the funding council would have any new money to support implementation before 2006.