The government washed its hands of the Bett report this week by making it clear that there would be no more money in the future to fund the recommended academic pay rises.
A statement by the Department for Education and Employment was issued at the same time as the publication of the Bett report on Wednesday. It ended weeks of speculation on whether the government would provide the cash to meet the Bett recommendations.
A DfEE spokesperson said: "It is a report commissioned by the higher education sector and therefore it is for them to respond to the recommendations. Government plays no role in determining pay and conditions for HE staff. There is no provision in the comprehensive spending review settlement for higher education for pay increases over and above the forecast rate of inflation."
Implementation of Bett's recommendations would cost Pounds 580 million. Sir Michael Bett said that Pounds 380 million of this should come from government. He wants his recommendations fully implemented by 2002. The known CSR settlement ends in 2001. The DfEE is yet to announce third and final-year settlement. Sir Michael is said to be pinning his hopes on a generous third-year settlement. The DfEE statement cut academics' hopes to the quick. David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "It is a rum business when the government rules out extra money before the sector has had a chance to put its case." Tom Wilson, head of Natfhe's universities section, said: "The government appears to be leading with its chin. If it is true that it has set its face against the recommendations, then that's deplorable and the sector will face the prospect of serious unrest."
Peter Cotgreave, director of the Save British Science pressure group, said:
"It is no good government saying it is nothing to do with them. British higher education is not going to retain its first-rate academics by paying third-rate salaries. We may be able to cruise through the next few years with the excellent people we have, but who will replace them? We could be looking at a disaster in 10 to 20 years' time."
Peter Humphries, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, refused to comment on the DFEE statement. He said:
"No dialogue has started with the DFEE. Before expressing an opinion, I want to meet with the DFEE."
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