Hundreds of young lecturers are quitting universities each year before their careers get off the ground, trade union Natfhe said this week.
Figures show that 300 lecturers left academe last year before they reached their 30th birthday. The problem is so bad that universities have to recruit two new staff for every one they hope to retain beyond their 20s, the union said.
Previous discussion of the staffing crisis in higher education has focused largely on the imminent retirement of the large number of over-50s and the failure to recruit, not the failure to retain staff starting out in their careers.
Higher Education Statistics Agency figures show that in 2000-01, 680 people aged under 30 became lecturers but 300 under-30s left. In 1999-2000, 300 were lost but 750 were recruited, and in 1998-99 350 left but 807 joined.
Tom Wilson, head of universities at Natfhe, said: "This is a damning indictment of the appalling salaries and careers structures available.
Young lecturers are also disillusioned that it takes them 16 years to reach the top of their pay scales, and they are often overwhelmed by red tape and bureaucracy."
Malcolm Keight, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "The figures make frightening reading and bear out what we've been saying for a long time."
A spokeswoman for Universities UK said: "The problems with young academics coming into the profession is an issue we've highlighted and will continue to draw attention to." The UUK had told the government in its spending review submission that the sector needed £1.2 billion for investment in human resources.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "During the academic year to July 31 2001, 90 per cent of staff were working in the same institution as in the previous year. A further 4 per cent had been working in another higher education institution. This suggests a good level of continuity for the teaching of students.
"We are concerned that institutions should be able to recruit, retain and reward the high-quality staff they need. That is why we have pumped in millions more for the recruitment, retention and reward of all staff and, in particular, to value and reward good teachers. This includes 'golden hellos' for new lecturers in shortage subjects."