Low pay is the single biggest reason for the difficulties universities face in recruiting and keeping lecturers, according to a new survey.
But the report by Riley Communications says that, as a rule, universities are not facing severe recruitment and retention problems. One exception is in information technology, where salaries are far higher in the private sector.
The survey does confirm, however, that salary is the biggest impediment to recruitment and retention in higher education. This includes not only the level of salary compared with the private sector, but also the lack of flexibility within the sector to offer different kinds of pay packages.
This inflexibility may explain why, despite fixed national pay scales for lecturers, the survey found growing numbers of universities deviating from the national structure in a bid to fill posts.
Some of these institutions could be forced to deviate because of their geographical location. They are either isolated geographically or are in parts of the country that are perceived as unattractive, the survey said.
Other deterrents include additional pressures on staff. The survey says many of these are a result of the research assessment exercise, teaching quality assessment, increased student numbers and bureaucratic management systems.
Lecturing unions have used recruitment and retention problems in universities to fuel demands for higher pay. They want the government to provide more money to allow full implementation of the recommendations on pay made in the recent Bett report.
A spokeswoman for the Association of University Teachers said that the report was welcome but that the point was that recruitment and retention problems should not be allowed to become severe.