The highest paid senior lecturers at the University of Birmingham could earn more than some professors under proposals to extend discretionary pay.
The university plans to add seven extra "contribution points" to the top of the senior lecturer pay grade as part of an effort to "attract, reward and retain" high-quality lecturing staff.
The move will increase senior lecturers' maximum possible pay to more than £64,000 - which is above the lowest possible professorial salary at the university.
The increase has not been welcomed by everyone. A source in the university said: "One of the professors, who has been trying to get a pay rise for years, is livid."
The scheme could be used to give large salaries to people who have been brought in from outside academia and who could not get on the professorial pay band because they lacked academic merit, the source suggested.
The senior lecturer grade currently has five pay points and two discretionary points. Extending the discretionary elements to a total of nine discretionary points would be a "recipe for cronyism," the academic argued.
Times Higher Education understands that the scheme was presented to the Birmingham branch of the University and College Union on 30 June and has already gained the approvals necessary for implementation.
A university spokesman said the extra contribution points were being added to the top of the senior lecturer grade (grade 9) to "attract, retain and reward high-quality academic and related staff on this grade". Staff would receive a salary above the contribution threshold only if their performance was "exceptional", the spokesman said.
Several other Russell Group universities have already added extra salary points above the top of the nationally agreed 51-point salary spine to their grade 9 or equivalent level, the spokesman said. He added: "The salary point immediately below the 'contribution threshold' on Birmingham's grade 9 will be unchanged at spinal point 49 (£49,606 a year from 1 May 2008).
"The minimum salary paid to a professor will continue to be a salary six points above the contribution threshold on grade 9, but this is only a minimum and professorial salaries are kept under review."
Meanwhile, having told deans that their posts will be abolished from 31 July to make way for a new college structure, approval for the colleges has been delayed, forcing Birmingham to appoint acting deans.
The university has learnt that it will not have Privy Council approval for the legislation to set up the colleges in time for 1 August. The university will continue operating under its existing statute. The new legislation is not expected to be implemented until January 2009.