BRITAIN's first role evaluation scheme for university staff could be sunk at the outset by trade unions which fear that it is little more than a backdoor bid to drive down academic pay.
The Higher Education Role Analysis (Hera) system took three years to develop and is launched today. Pilot schemes involving six institutions are due to be held, but both the Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe say they may boycott the trials.
Hera was developed by a consortium of more than 100 higher education institutions. It offers members a powerful computer program that is able to grade staff based on the type and range of work they do. Consortium spokesmen stress that it is not job evaluation since the range of work undertaken by higher education staff defies single job descriptions.
Alastair McDougall, consortium chairman, said: "This system is not saying who will be paid what. It provides a means to inform decisions on who is paid what. The next stage is how to link this to pay and I think the unions will be strongly in favour of it."
Mr McDougall said that European case law now demands that people receive equal pay for equal work. He believes that equal work can only be assessed accurately through comprehensive role analysis. Universities that fail to introduce such systems risk industrial tribunal battles with staff claiming unfair pay.
Mr McDougall added that the Here system was developed from information from 1,000 university employees. Hera requires an analyst to conduct in-depth interviews with employees. The computer program assigns a points value to any given employee based on the actual work they do rather than their job description.
But David Triesman, AUT general secretary, said that the system was a thinly disguised attempt by the employers to move towards single table bargaining.
He said that Hera would drive down academic pay by assigning the same points value to all sorts of employees. Employers could then claim that a lecturer was worth the same pay as, perhaps, a junior administrator. "They may hide behind European law but we are not at all convinced they are concerned about equal opportunities."
Amanda Hart, Natfhe's assistant national higher education officer, said: "We are keen to talk to the AUT about a joint response and this may include a boycott."