HERA for equality

October 25, 1996

I WAS saddened to read Opinion (THES, October 11) as it gave a biased and ill-informed impression of the COMCON project.

The project was initiated in 1993 by a group of personnel directors and with the support of Universities and Colleges Employers Association to devise an approach to the analysis of roles in higher education in order to promote the use of best employment practices - particularly those associated with equal opportunities. It was not a knee-jerk reaction.

The project has comprised two stages. The first was to consider the use of competences to define the many occupations found in the sector. For several reasons, it was concluded that NVQ's would not do the job.The second has been a thorough investigation of roles in institutions to identify elements, expressed as factors and competences. This investigation has been led by Towers Perrin with very able assistance from staff in institutions. Over 1,000 staff in 30 plus institutions have been asked to describe the work they do.

The consultants have taken care to make sure the language used during the interviews is contained in the descriptions of jobs and elements. The project's academic advisors have been party to each stage and trade union views have been taken into account throughout. Work will shortly begin on the next phase, which will ask several hundred more staff to compare and contrast the benchmark jobs and the elements.

Next spring the project will produce a computer-based package called Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA). Its ability to reflect the unique features of the different jobs and requirements of separate institutions will be its main strength.

HERA will enable appointment and promotion decisions to be made against communicable and transparent criteria; allow individuals to discuss the content and boundaries of their roles, focus, training and development on expressible needs of individual and their employing institution; facilitate appraisal and feedback and outline what is required to gain promotion and future development. Most importantly, HERA will provide for the evaluation, comparison and analysis of roles to ensure equal pay for work of equal value.

Most people, once the structures have been explained, agree they are less than satisfactory. Given this, surely it is wise to progress an approach that will bring openness and help people understand better what is expected from them.

Margaret Dale Chair of UCC management committee Universities and Colleges Employers Association

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