Pay blights prospect of recruiting young talent

June 23, 2000

Universities are short of money: a message that the government seems reluctant to hear, though evidence to the select committee (page 3) this week will once again have rammed home the message.

Higher education's plight is illustrated by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association's advice that its members should impose a 3 per cent pay increase (page 7). It may be that this is all that can be afforded across the board. But in the year after the Bett report it is a bitter disappointment. It will not address the decline in all types of staff's comparative earnings and it will not compensate for rising workloads stemming from government expansion and access targets.

This sorry situation and this week's select committee hearings suggest a higher education system on the brink of disintegration. If 3 per cent is the best collective bargaining can deliver what chance has it of surviving? Those with scarce skills and large research grants will want to strike their own deals - as the professoriate does. Research-rich institutions will try to raise ever growing amounts of private money to meet such demands. Poorer institutions, more dependent on public funding, may have to cut permanent staff even to honour 3 per cent and could be driven to rely on even more poorly paid casual staff. The prospects for young people entering the academic profession will be yet bleaker. If this is not the government's intention they should, even at this late hour, listen to the warning and find more money.

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