Newby: address staff issues now

September 10, 1999

University chiefs have been warned by their new president that they must urgently tackle questions over staff pay, contracts, and equal opportunities if they want the government to spend more on higher education.

Howard Newby - vice-chancellor of Southampton University, who gives his inaugural address as first president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals at its annual meeting in Telford next week - told The THES that universities can no longer afford to "defend the indefensible" on key staff issues.

In particular, vice-chancellors should be prepared to investigate and act quickly on evidence of significant discrepancies in pay between male and female academics and on the growing trend towards short-term contracts.

Professor Newby said universities must be seen to be taking seriously these and other issues raised by the Bett inquiry if they want ministers to consider investing more in the sector in the next comprehensive spending review, to which the CVCP must make its submission by the year's end.

"In general, higher education has to be seen to be improving the quality of its human resources, through pay bargaining, equal opportunities, appraisal, performance-related pay, if it is to convince the government that a further investment will produce a good return," Professor Newby said.

He is calling for the CVCP to set up a working party, under the umbrella of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, to study unequal pay between men and women. It should involve all staff trade unions.

He added that unions must play their part by accepting that there is no more money for pay this year and ending their pay dispute, and agreeing that any future big pay rises will must have a performance-related pay element.

Professor Newby's plea came as it emerged that the Association of University Teachers and employers will resume talks over pay.

AUT general secretary David Triesman said national negotiations would continue on Thursday and should address not only the 3.5 per cent offer but issues such as casualisation and pay discrimination against women. He said: "The money was not acceptable to us, but it was not where things broke down. We could not make progress on what everyone accepted were serious problems."

If serious discussions go ahead, Mr Triesman said he hoped both sides would "take all steps needed to make them have every chance of success". For this reason, the union will evaluate its boycott of meetings and email.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association declined to comment at this stage.

Meanwhile, university and college lecturers' union Natfhe is balloting on the 3.5 per cent offer. Initial returns show support for rejecting it, but the scale of support is unclear because the summer break led to a low turnout.

Natfhe will continue with plans for a strike ballot, but it is unlikely to be ready to begin any industrial action until at least November.

Unions and employers are holding informal talks over how to begin negotiations on the joint national council and two subcouncils recommended by Bett.

Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Guildhall University, has been elected to chair the restructured CVCP's national council for England and Northern Ireland. The new-look CVCP consists of a UK board, headed by Professor Newby, and three autonomous national councils for England and Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

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