Employers unwilling to discuss rises for 2008-09 as union vows to keep up pressure. Melanie Newman reports.
Lecturers' union leaders are refusing to be locked into a pay timetable that would prevent them from disrupting student graduations, despite mounting pressure from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.
The University and College Union is also leaving open the possibility of reopening pay negotiations in 2008, despite Ucea's insistence that lecturers' pay should not be discussed again before spring 2009 following the three-year pay settlement last year.
At a meeting last week of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) to discuss new pay negotiating structures, the UCU refused to accept employers' demands for a clear negotiating timetable.
The action prompted Ucea to issue a statement expressing its "disappointment". It said: "Last year's action of not marking work and refusing to set exams was planned from the outset to affect students' graduations, at the most critical time in the academic calendar."
Ahead of last year's dispute, the academic unions' pay claim was submitted in October 2005, five months before claims are normally submitted, and disruption was timed for the spring run-up to students' final exams.
"If an unstructured timetable remains, it would allow the UCU to submit pay claims whenever they wanted, allowing for intense disruption to students," Ucea said.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "We cannot agree to new procedures that would allow the employers to dictate when and if we can ballot our members."
Ucea's statement also insisted that negotiating for pay in 2008-09 - the third year of the three-year pay deal agreed in 2006 - was not an option. A jointly commissioned review of finance and pay data in universities is due to report in autumn 2008.
"The findings of this review will inform subsequent negotiations, for the academic year 2009-10 and later, with the next round of negotiations due to take place in the spring of 2009," Ucea said.
The union, however, has refused to rule out reopening pay talks in 2008.
The agreement is for a rise of at least 2.5 per cent in 2008-09, but Ms Hunt said next year's financial review would be "crucial to informing future negotiations".
"Inflation is already rising and, like other public-sector staff, UCU members will be looking for next year's year-three settlement to at least take account of rising inflation," Ms Hunt said.