Pay still linked to length of service

Ucea finds framework agreement has not led to performance-based rises, writes Melanie Newman

September 11, 2008

Pay rises in higher education are still firmly linked to years of service rather than performance, research commissioned by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) has found.

A survey of 112 universities found that most university staff are progressing through the new pay grades set up after the historic 2004 "framework agreement" pay reforms on the same basis as they had progressed through their previous pay ranges - by service-related increments.

Although performance-related "contribution points" and other arrangements based on the contribution employees make have been introduced for all staff in two thirds of institutions, there was an expectation that only a minority of employees would actually receive such payments.

"Progression to the top of the grade (or to a contribution threshold below the top of the grade) is entirely service-related in more than four in five (83 per cent) of the 112 institutions," Ucea's Review of the Implementation of the Framework Agreement says.

While two thirds of institutions surveyed had contribution schemes up and running, just over a quarter of these had introduced performance management arrangements.

One pre-1992 university has put in place "higher responsibility zones" (HRZs) as an alternative to contribution pay. An individual moves into an HRZ if they have taken on more responsibility than their job requires but not enough to warrant going up a grade.

A third of managers interviewed by an independent researcher commissioned by Ucea were negative about contribution pay. One academic head at a post-1992 university said: "Now the head of department's views on an application for contribution pay will be known, which will mean that he/she will make enemies if he/she doesn't support a subordinate's application."

A third of managers were positive and the rest undecided about contribution pay.

The process of "evaluating" the role of all staff members to determine where in the new pay spine they should be placed had proved difficult. Some managers complained that "the concept of academic freedom has permeated all academic jobs to the extent that individuals should decide their roles rather than the institution".

Some 71 per cent of institutions surveyed used the Higher Education Role Analysis (Hera) scheme to evaluate jobs, and per cent used an alternative, from the Hay Group. Those using the Hay system were generally satisfied, but some users found that Hera required more staff time than had been expected.

The research concluded that overall the 2004 framework agreement was meeting its objectives of ensuring equal pay for work of equal value and improving flexibility in working practices. Four out of five institutions surveyed included hourly-paid lecturers in their single pay spine and a "substantial number" had transferred some hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts.

Some 4 per cent of academic staff and 11 per cent of support staff had been upgraded as a result of the reforms. Most institutions also reported improved employee relations as a result of working together to implement the deal.

But University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt criticised some universities' slow progress in implementing the framework. She said: "Over 25 institutions are yet to fully implement it and, instead of celebrating a job not yet finished, the employers should be pushing the institutions who have not yet implemented the agreement to do so immediately."

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