Academic staff recruitment and retention are top priorities for education ministers bidding for more cash in the comprehensive spending review.
Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone assured vice-chancellors and lecturing unions that factors affecting academic recruitment and retention, primarily pay and equality of opportunity, would be given the highest priority by the department when it bargains with the Treasury for higher education cash in the CSR 2000.
Baroness Blackstone gave her assurance in response to a plea by Philip Love, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University and chairman of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. The minister was speaking at "Higher Education: Modernising for the Millennium", a joint employer and union conference on academic pay and equal opportunities held in London last Thursday.
Professor Love asked the minister: "If problems around the recruitment and retention of staff are allowed to continue they will damage the competitiveness of the UK. Can you give us an assurance that this will be given the very highest priority in arguing the case in the next funding round?"
Baroness Blackstone told him "Yes". Earlier she said: "Pay is a matter for universities, but I recognise the disparity in some salaries to which the Bett report refers. CSR 2000 is under way and higher education staff clearly will be a factor. I have given what I consider to be a strong commitment that this is important to the government."
Tom Wilson, head of the universities section for lecturers union Natfhe, accused the government of double standards over Bett. He said after the conference: "The government interferes in terms of the strings it attaches to university funding, about how higher education expansion should take place and in many other ways.
"Yet it says that providing more money to head off a possible crisis in academic recruitment and retention constitutes an unjustified interference."
The results of CSR 2000 are due to be announced in July.