Put money where mouths are

October 27, 2000

The delayed announcement of the second and third years of the comprehensive spending review is sending shudders of apprehension through higher education. I know ministers in the Department for Education and Employment fought hard for extra resources from the Treasury and, like The THES , (Editorial, October 13), I think David Blunkett won.

It would be unthinkable for the sums achieved to be siphoned off for other uses because of a shortfall in student target numbers, even if this can be done while marginally improving the unit of resource. No minister has exceeded Blunkett in criticising rampant pay discrimination in higher education. Not only are they paid less, but women and members of ethnic minorities are in the least secure employment.

All this is against a backdrop of years of general pay neglect. What values are involved when an 18-year-old with minimal training can start as a London Underground station assistant on Pounds 2,000 pa more than a PhD starting work in a vital medical research team?

If there is leeway to start to correct these demoralising injustices, to boost quality and equality, then the cash must stay in higher education. As Michael Bett said, it is a moment to spend money on staff. As the general election approaches, three judgements will be made. Was the government in a financial position to right important wrongs? Did the government provide vice-chancellors with yet another excuse to do next to nothing? Did someone else benefit from the diversion of HE cash, demonstrating that staff remain at the bottom of the pile? The secretary of state must have the right answer to all three questions.

David Triesman
General secretary
Association of University Teachers

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