UNIVERSITIES' new pay bargaining chief Peter Humphreys has called on the government to come clean on whether it supports or rejects Dearing's recommended pay review committee.
Mr Humphreys, who took over from Steve Rouse as chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association on October 1, said that it was up to the government to end mounting speculation over the future of the in-dependent review committee that Sir Ron proposed in recommendation 50 of his report.
He said: "Everyone in the sector is looking for the government to play its part. But the fear is that because of the potential funding implications, the government may wish to distance itself. If it did, it would be an opportunity lost for us to take forward what is an important and overlooked section of the Dearing report."
Sir Ron charged the government with appointing a chair for the committee, which he said should report by April. But so far the government has not even offered a shortlist of possible candidates, let alone appointed anyone.
Many in higher education suspect that the government may not want to appoint a chair to the committee, believing Labour is worried that this would lend the committee more clout. It is conceivable that the government would find it harder to reject potentially expensive pay recommendations made by a committee chaired by its own appointee.
The picture remains unclear. Mr Humphreys, who was speaking at a Natfhe conference on pay on Monday, said that education secretary David Blunkett was still undecided about appointing a chair. Yet the Department for Education and Employment told The THES it expects soon to make an announcement about the committee. Mr Humphreys, a graduate of Newcastle University, who was recruited from the former National Rivers Authority where he was director of personnel, said: "Given the complexity of the issues and the number of parties with a stake in pay and conditions discussions, I just think the April deadline is impossible."
He told delegates to the Natfhe conference that it was important that an independent review committee was set up to sort out the "mess" of higher education pay bargaining. He criticised the complexity of the bargaining structures where demarcation between different employees and between the old and new university sectors confused the position.
Mr Humphreys said that, at the risk of making himself unpopular, he thought that the trade unions, which would include Natfhe, the Association of University Teachers and Unison were reinforcing this demarcation.