Scottish academics will have to wait two years before the extra money promised to their universities is translated into higher pay, and the delay will give English institutions an edge in recruiting staff, the Association of University Teachers Scotland has warned.
In the wake of a record funding boost from this year's Scottish spending review, the AUTS believes there is no barrier to pay modernisation in 2005.
But university managers say they will not get their hands on the extra funding until 2006, so they will not be able to boost pay in 2005.
Alastair Hunter, AUTS president, said: "University principals have argued that additional funding is required to ensure that they can attract and retain staff in Scotland once fees are introduced in England.
"They now have the funds from the Scottish Executive and the opportunity to take the lead on pay modernisation by implementing the pay framework without delay. However, no university in Scotland has yet implemented the deal, allowing English universities to gain the advantage on staff pay even before the extra income from top-up fees comes on stream."
English universities are already implementing a pay framework that will modernise pay structures. But Universities Scotland, which represents principals, has said that it will not have the money for pay rises next year and that it will need another funding injection to cover non-publicly funded staff.
A Universities Scotland spokesperson said managers were well aware of how badly pay had slipped over the past two decades and were committed to doing all they could to modernise pay by 2006. "We are grateful for the resources the executive has given us, which we think will make it possible to address the issue of pay modernisation for staff who are publicly funded," he said.
"But there is no money for things such as backdating or a general pay uplift. If the money isn't there, it isn't there.
"People have to realise that the money for modernising the pay of non-publicly funded staff will have to be found elsewhere. This is not a simple task."
Jim Wallace, Scotland's LifeLong Learning minister, replying to a question on timing from Labour MSP Mike Watson, said institutions were expected to complete implementation of the pay settlement by August 2006.
He promised to address the issue in his forthcoming letters of guidance to the funding councils. "We will certainly indicate that we expect the staff in our universities to be properly remunerated," he said.