THE GOVERNMENT has rejected Sir Ron Dearing's recommendation to nominate a chairman for his proposed pay review committee for university staff.
The Department for Education and Employment has written to a number of higher education organisations telling them that, while the government would be happy to "facilitate" the selection of candidates and choice of an independent chair, it believes the actual nomination should be made by employers and the trade unions.
The decision flies in the face of Sir Ron's recommendation 50 that said: "The chairman should be appointed on the nomination of the government."
University employers feel let down by the decision, but many had suspected that the government would not want to appoint a chair because it would make the committee's potentially expensive findings on pay and conditions easier to ignore or reject.
Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "We are both surprised and disappointed by the department's decision. It is highly likely that we will make some sort of representation."
However, academics' unions do not share the employers' disappointment. An Association of University Teachers spokesperson said: "We welcome the government's move, which indicates a positive and strong commitment to this one-off process." While supporting the review committee, the AUT will continue its campaign for a permanent pay review body for academic and related staff.
Liz Allen, head of higher education for lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "It was always pretty unlikely that the government would commit itself fully to this by appointing a chairperson. At least it has not distanced itself completely."
Higher education's largest union, Unison, believes that even if the committee is appointed immediately it stands no chance of reporting by April as Sir Ron recommended. It has therefore decided to press ahead with its pay claim for next year. It expects to finalise the claim by the end of November after consulting its 50,000 higher education members.
Last year the union secured its blue-collar members in higher education the largest pay increase in the public sector with a two-year 7.3 per cent deal.
Whatever the level of next year's pay claim, Unison will demand a minimum wage of Pounds 4.42 an hour. It also wants to replace the eight university pay bargaining structures with single-table bargaining.
Unison knows that single-table bargaining is at odds with the AUT's goal of a permanent pay review body. Unison says that such a body for academic and related staff would be elitist and divisive.