Market forces dictate wages

September 1, 2006

Vice-chancellors are using pay reforms as an opportunity to introduce stark variations in salaries. Phil Baty reports

The market is starting to shape the pay and career opportunities of academic staff despite the existence of national salary scales.

As the deadline arrived this week for universities to implement the 2004 pay modernisation reforms, it emerged that vice-chancellors are taking the opportunity to offer a variety of different pay and reward packages to meet their individual market needs.

Notable variations are appearing in starting salaries, in upper pay limits in certain job grades and even in the length of time it takes to climb the career ladder.

In addition, most universities are adopting a form of performance-related-pay in which individual staff can earn extra money based on their contribution to the university's mission. Many are also implementing market supplement pay awards to attract staff where there is intense competition for jobs, according to the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association.

Alasdair Smith, vice-chancellor of Sussex University and the new chairman of Ucea, said that the market flexibility provided by the framework, which is being implemented locally institution by institution, "is essential, particularly with a variable level of student fees now in place".

He added: "Implementation of the framework will enable each institution to determine, with its staff, fair and competitive pay to help achieve differing ambitions."

Under the 2004 Framework Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures, all university staff - from porters to professors in old and in new universities - are being placed on a single pay spine after they undergo job evaluation exercises that measure the detailed responsibilities of all staff groups.

The five agreed national academic job grades (from junior researchers to professors) can be placed anywhere on the new pay spine with the agreement of local unions. They can also be stretched or shortened, offering scope for local variation in minimum and maximum salaries and the number of annual increments in each grade.

Although Ucea declined to release details of the effects of the reforms at individual institutions and said that some were choosing to adopt a standard model, clear differentials are emerging.

Even among the research-led institutions operating in a similar market, variations in starting salaries have been stark, ranging from £25,633 at Liverpool University to £30,607 at Essex University, according to the University and College Union.

UCU research into the first 11 framework deals found that maximum pay for senior lecturers varied from £43,683 to £49,115, and that the minimum salary for professors varied by nearly £10,000, from Pounds 44,947 to £53,670 in old universities.

A survey of 121 universities by Ucea found that 80 per cent of institutions intended to introduce contribution-related pay for staff - rewarding performance - and 70 per cent of institutions would offer market supplements to provide higher salaries for hard-to-find staff.

But the UCU said that it was alarmed by Ucea's finding that only 56 per cent of institutions had actually implemented the framework by this week's deadline.

Sally Hunt, the UCU joint general secretary, said: "In my opinion, any university that had not implemented the framework by August is outside the agreement.

"There is no excuse for this, and all university employers who have not implemented it must do so as soon as possible and backdate pay. Otherwise, they will be responsible for a two-tier system.

"We will be pursuing all institutions that have not yet implemented the framework in the way we always have done by insisting on backdated pay."

A Ucea spokesman said that some 85 per cent of institutions either had implemented the framework or had said that they would have the framework in place by the end of this year, with most agreeing to backdate the reforms.

Professor Smith said: "It is understandable and unsurprising that not all institutions have fully completed the process when you take into account the complexities surrounding implementation and the timing of the pay dispute disruption [during April and May]."

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