The university employers' body is to issue formal guidance to support vice-chancellors if they decide to pull out of national pay bargaining, writes Melanie Newman. The University and Colleges Employers Association has drafted advice, to be circulated to all universities later this month, to assist managers if current talks over the future of national pay negotiations collapse.
Ucea this week reiterated its threat that universities would walk away from national pay bargaining and set pay locally or in consortia if the University and College Union did not agree to a number of reforms to the system.
The UCU is holding a special conference next week to discuss the employers' demand that future national talks be held around a single negotiating table with non-academic unions and that a clear timetable be set for talks. The UCU has so far resisted both moves.
Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea's chief executive, said: "I hope the outstanding issues with the UCU can be resolved and that the majority of institutions will therefore decide to participate in national bargaining.
"However, if there is no resolution following the UCU's special conference, Ucea is fully prepared to support those institutions that opt for local bargaining as a result."
Ucea's guidance, which is still under consultation, will include a questionnaire to help senior managers weigh up their options - by considering issues such as the state of local industrial relations and the financial costs involved in ensuring they have the capacity for local pay talks.
Ucea intends to publish a list of those institutions continuing with national bargaining, and those that are not. Separate codes of practice will be available for both groups.
The Times Higher understands that for the first time Ucea has formally acknowledged that groups of institutions with similar profiles, such as the research-led Russell Group, may opt to negotiate pay in consortia.
The guidance also notes that institutions may support local pay talks in principle but may lack the capacity to conduct them.
These universities would be asked to commit to collective negotiations for a set period, while putting arrangements in place for a move to local negotiations in the future.
Bill Wakeham, Ucea chairman, said the guidelines would provide improved employer coherence and clarity about whom Ucea represents.
Malcolm Keight, head of the UCU's higher education committee, said: "It is our hope that the conference will enable us to agree arrangements that will retain national bargaining. If the employers are threatening to walk away from those, that is their decision, but it is not one that we would like to see."