Show us the money

May 27, 2005

Universities and funders need to do some radical thinking to boost pay, argues Paul Mackney.

For many years, there was a view that academic staff would put up with relatively low pay in return for security of employment and a culture that would allow them to pursue intellectual knowledge and to get satisfaction from teaching.

To what extent that was ever true is debatable, but in the new university sector it has certainly come to an end. Rising workloads and stress, extensive casualisation, growing insecurity, excessive audit and a management crisis culture in too many institutions have undermined whatever groves of academe once existed.

As Tony Blair said in a speech at South Camden Community College two years ago: "University lecturers and professors have seen their pay rise one third as fast as the rest of the workforce in the past 20 years and have now fallen behind their main international competitors."

Poor levels of pay for academic staff as a whole are compounded by patterns of discrimination, especially against women and ethnic minority staff, and by the abuse of thousands of hourly paid lecturers and fixed-term researchers.

University employers believe that recruitment and retention problems are mounting. Their 2004 comprehensive spending review submission states that unless pay is improved, the "creation and maintenance of a sustainable staff base, needed both to train professionals for the future and to continue widening access to universities, is likely to prove extremely difficult."

The framework agreement, the pay modernisation pact negotiated between employers and unions last year, did nothing to close the serious pay shortfall identified by the Bett report.

Staff will receive a miserable average of 7.5 per cent over two years including assimilation to the new pay scales, with a small number receiving additional monies after job evaluation. No such restraints were applied last year to vice-chancellors and principals, many of whom stuck to their previous year's salary motto of "don't do what I do, do what I say" and received a pay increase double that of their staff.

This year's initial pay offer to staff of 5 per cent over two years is even worse.

What is increasingly clear is that there is a real issue of accountability.

University employers say they share our goals of substantial rises in academic pay but they do not have the money. Universities UK and the Standing Conference of Principals say that simply maintaining the current, wholly inadequate, unit of funding for universities and colleges requires additional recurrent expenditure of £568 million.

The Government claims it has increased funding sufficiently to provide for reasonable annual pay rises. The Higher Education Funding Council for England says the same. UUK claims this is not the case, and the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association agrees.

Meanwhile, lecturers' pay in real terms continues to slide. At the same time, substantial funds for rewarding and developing staff, intended in large part to augment staff pay packets, appear to have vanished into thin air, as recent research by the Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe has shown.

A similar pattern already exists in further education. There, lecturers are fighting to implement the full terms of the pay deal that was drawn up two years ago. The deal should have improved further education lecturers' pay by an average of 8 per cent. It was seen as making significant strides towards narrowing the estimated 10 per cent pay gap between college lecturers and schoolteachers.

Although the deal was struck nationally, it was down to individual colleges to implement it, and many have still not done so, claiming they do not have the money.

The higher and further education sectors are refusing to pay the increases they agree are needed. It may not be long before maverick universities refuse to pay even the miserable increases agreed nationally.

It is time for some radical thinking. If Hefce and the institutions cannot agree on whether there is money for decent pay increases, surely it is time to hypothecate a proportion of funding for decent pay rises. If action along these lines, or some other that would ensure decent rises, is not taken very quickly, there may well be serious trouble ahead.

Paul Mackney is general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe.

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