Plans for the biggest shake-up of academic careers for 40 years received the green light this week.
The reforms will pave the way for a single new pay spine before 2006, encompassing all university staff, from porters to professors, in old and new universities.
Staff will face job evaluations to determine pay levels under the new system, with unprecedented variations in salaries as market forces operate in the academic job market as never before.
Members of lecturers' union Natfhe this week voted to accept the plans, while the Association of University Teachers agreed to call off industrial action and to ballot members with a recommendation to accept the proposals.
Employers are poised to implement the Framework Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures.
The framework is designed to ensure greater pay equality and transparency through job evaluation exercises, detailing staff roles and responsibilities. Pay will be set accordingly. The package comes with an average 7.7 per cent two-year pay increase.
The framework builds in flexibility for universities to set pay levels locally, under national guidelines; introduces market-based pay supplements to attract staff in shortage subject areas; and formalises a type of performance-related pay by adding extra pay for an academic's contribution.
After more than two years of negotiations, 82 per cent of Natfhe members voted to accept the agreement, with a turnout of 35 per cent of members.
Roger Kline, Natfhe's head of universities, said: "Our deep concerns about the overall level of pay for academic staff remain and we will continue to lobby, alongside our colleagues in other academic unions, for substantial long-term improvements in pay."
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "Ucea is very pleased to see Natfhe members giving such a powerful endorsement of the new pay framework."
This week it also looked likely that the AUT would finally accept the framework. The union's annual council last week agreed to suspend industrial action and ballot members with a recommendation to accept the offer, after the union secured concessions from employers.
The union had been concerned that the single new pay spine would add additional pay increments and reduce the career earnings of its members, but employers agreed to a "no detriment" clause protecting staff from career pay cuts.
But there is concern about how far the employers' concessions have gone.
The AUT did not secure an increase to the overall pay offer and did not preserve national pay bargaining for its academic-related members, such as librarians and technicians.
The union had made this the central plank of its dispute. It has secured a commitment from employers to set up a national library of role profiles for academic-related staff to help guide universities on local pay levels.
But the job descriptions will not be linked nationally to pay as has been agreed for academic staff and as the AUT had demanded.
A letter from Peter Thorpe, Ucea consultant, obtained by The Times Higher , says: "Ucea has not agreed to the creation of a national library of role profiles for academic-related staff akin to that for academic staff."
A motion carried last week at the AUT's council acknowledged the fears and instructed the AUT to create a "national task force" to ensure the national library is used by employers.
The AUT will also have to sell to its members a framework that it previously attacked for being likely to "compound institutional racism" by increasing local discretion over setting pay.
Although employers vehemently deny that a framework designed to increase equality could compound racism, the AUT has not secured any concessions to address this concern.
PAY FRAMEWORK AT A GLANCE
* All staff - from old and new universities, from porters to professors - will be transferred to a new common pay spine, in contrast to myriad separate arrangements currently in place
* There will be five academic job grades for staff in old and new universities. Staff will be placed in grades after job evaluation exercises for a sample of each staff group in each university. Downgraded staff will have pay protected for four years
* At the top of the academic job grades, after annual pay increases based on length of service, additional "contribution" pay increments will be available based on an assessment of individual performance
* "Market supplements" - extra pay to attract staff in shortage areas - will be introduced
* Staff will receive a 3.44 per cent pay increase for 2003 and a 3 per cent deal for 2004. A further 1.1 per cent on average is available when staff are moved wholesale to the new pay spine, and employers have allowed for an extra 3 to 5 per cent pay increase when staff have undergone job evaluation