Imperial College London's decision to break away from national pay bargaining has proven to be a "a spectacular flop", the main union for academics claimed this week, writes Phil Baty.
Imperial reassured staff the move would allow it to pay wages more in keeping with the elite institution's "size and status", and avoid it being held back by "smaller, poorer" universities.
Staff opened their pay packets this week to find a rise just half a percentage point above the nationally agreed rate of 3 per cent, or just £2 a week more than the national increase for senior lecturers.
"Imperial promised a great deal but has not put its money where its mouth is," said Ben Monks, regional support officer for the Association of University Teachers in London.
He was quick to draw attention to a newsletter sent to staff on January 19 this year by Chris Gosling, director of human resources. It says: "An institution of the size and status of the college has the resources to determine its own pay arrangements, and it is anomalous that we should be constrained by sector negotiations which are to a huge extent influenced by organisations smaller, poorer and without our organisational aspirations."
Mr Monks said: "We calculate that the increase of 0.5 per cent on the nationally negotiated figure of 3 per cent will mean an extra £2 a week for a senior lecturer."
The AUT is determined to preserve national pay bargaining, despite arguments that its members, who are almost exclusively employed in pre-1992 and usually more prestigious universities, could secure better pay deals outside a national system.
"National negotiating offers safeguards for AUT members and means clarity for employers," said Mr Monks. "It removes scope for them to treat staff differently."
A spokeswoman for Imperial said: "Imperial has already made significant adjustments to the minimum pay of lecturers, the maximum pay of senior lecturers and readers, and the minimum pay of professors.
"We are delighted that in this first year we are able to offer an increase above 3 per cent."