Scots fear top-up effects

April 21, 2006

Scottish universities have been warned that they could lose out in the academic job market if they are slow to adopt the new pay framework for staff.

Union leaders in Scotland fear that Scottish universities are lagging significantly behind English institutions in moving salaries on to the nationally agreed pay spine.

At its council meeting last month, the Association of University Teachers Scotland heard that only Dundee and Glasgow universities had drawn up plans that met the criteria agreed between unions and employers. And while a majority of pre-1992 universities had made broad commitments to meet the criteria, the union said many institutions had not yet produced a first draft.

Deborah Shepherd, regional support officer at the AUTS, said: "A number of institutions are sailing close to the wind. The Dundee deal has taken well over a year and we are still tweaking around the edges."

David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the AUTS, warned that universities were in danger of losing staff because of delays.

"However, there are indications that the Scottish universities, especially those that have to compete with leading research universities down south, now understand that they will need to do more than just comply with the national agreement. Their new pay structures will need to compare well with the competition to attract and retain staff," he added.

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said universities were "completely committed" to implementing the framework by the due date. "Everyone is working hard to get there and the responsibility is to work together constructively to make it happen."

The warning follows widespread fears that Scottish universities could be outpriced by their English counterparts in the wake of top-up fees.

David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, said: "I've no reason to believe institutions are failing to make appointments on any significant scale, but there is a real worry that it will get more difficult. People are very aware that English universities' income is likely to increase steadily, and (they) ask when they come for interviews what the prospects in Scotland are."

Higher education had a major boost in Scotland's comprehensive spending review of 2004 that allocated cash for 2005-06 to 2007-08, but funding levels after 2008 are unknown.

Mr Bleiman said that given the overwhelming consensus against top-up fees in Scotland, "the corresponding (public) funding commitment, to maintain the competitive position of the Scottish universities, should be good for longer than just one spending round".

Meanwhile Scotland's job market continues to span the entire breadth of academic subject areas. In modern languages for example, struggling nationally, the last year has seen academic positions advertised in French, Russian, Chinese, German, and Spanish.

Physics and chemistry disciplines have benefited from the "research pooling" schemes that allow academics from several institutions to work closely. Glasgow University is currently shedding several hundred posts because of a multimillion pound deficit, but even where a discipline's emphasis has shifted, such as from social psychology to neuroscience, no departments have been closed.

In the past year, the university said it had filled more than 40 chairs, including key appointments in cancer studies, cardiovascular medicine, physics, chemistry, history and politics.

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