Some universities will not be able to pay academics their promised 3.5 per cent pay rise in full, employers have warned. They are in such financial trouble they might have to put off paying the agreed increase for up to 11 months, without backdating it.
It became clear this week that lecturers' unions are ready to accept the offer, but the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association has inserted a get-out clause. It said that this year's allocations had left some institutions with a stark choice between rewarding staff or saving jobs.
Unions said they would "come down like a ton of bricks" on institutions that deferred the increase.
Peter Thorpe, a senior adviser to Ucea, said: "We have written a clause into the offer that some institutions might have to defer paying the increase until later in the year. It is clear to us that there is a minority of institutions which will find 3.5 per cent very difficult."
The deal - which falls way short of the 15 per cent the unions initially demanded - will increase the sector's £7.8 billion pay bill by £5 million for 2002-03.
"It may be that some institutions take up the clause to defer payment," Mr Thorpe said. "They will have to decide whether to pay the 3.5 per cent now and lose more staff through redundancy than they are planning to lose, or to defer the payment and lose fewer staff."
The clause says that "where institutions face serious funding difficulties, they may need exceptionally to delay introduction for up to 11 months of pay increases agreed for 2002-03 so as to minimise job losses".
This year's allocations, which removed the financial safety net protecting institutions, saw 26 institutions given real-terms funding cuts. These included the University of Luton, facing a 10 per cent funding cut, South Bank, with 6.1 per cent, and Lincoln, with 5.7 per cent. Greenwich and Hull universities face a 1.2 per cent cut, and North London, Coventry, Leicester, Sussex and Derby universities face cuts of less than 1 per cent.
None of these institutions indicated this week that they were unable to pay the deal in full. Tom Wilson, head of universities at lecturers'
union Natfhe, said he expected all universities to pay up. "We were very unhappy that Ucea included this clause and we argued strongly against it. We are sure that no employer will enact the clause. But if they do, Natfhe and the other unions will come down on them like a ton of bricks," he said.
As Nathfe and the Association of University Teachers began counting their members' votes on the offer this week, it seemed highly likely that they would accept the deal, even though they regard 3.5 per cent as deeply disappointing. Those universities that implement the deal in full and on time will pay up in October, but backdate the increase to August 1, the common staff pay anniversary.
Starting salaries will increase by 13.4 per cent in new universities and by 8.4 per cent in old, taking both to £22,191.
Meanwhile, a series of strikes is set to shut down universities and colleges across London over the autumn as staff protest at their employers' failure to recognise the extra costs of living in the capital.
All the higher education unions are united behind a campaign for an annual additional £4,000 London weighting payment for all staff. Unison members in old universities were due to strike this week over vice-chancellors' failure to implement an increase for the 11th consecutive year. Executive members of the AUT were to meet today to discuss plans to join Unison in future action, warning they were "intensely frustrated" by employers' failure to act.
Natfhe agreed to recommended action in November if its members rejected their employers' offer of a 3.5 per cent increase to their London allowance. The offer would mean, at the top end, that London weighting for Natfhe members would increase by £82 to £2,437.
* A £32 million boost for salaries in further education from the government has failed to defuse a dispute over pay, writes Tony Tysome.
Union leaders and employers said the one-off payment was not enough to bring them back to the negotiating table and avert a November 5 strike.
Lifelong learning minister Margaret Hodge announced the money last Friday, stating that £20 million was earmarked for the teaching pay initiative for lecturers and £12 million for the college pay initiative scheme for support staff and managers.