Old universities are likely to face a major recruitment crisis in the next four years because of a retirement bulge and poor academic pay, Peter Breeze, president of the Association of University Teachers, predicted yesterday.
Addressing the association's summer congress at Weston-Super-Mare, Mr Breeze, a senior lecturer in statistics at Glasgow University, said that the retirement bulge would hit universities between 1998 and 2003.
AUT figures show that more than 5,000 academics are due to retire in that period, roughly a sixth of all permanent staff in old universities.
"Pay levels are vital to our profession. If awards follow the same pattern as the past 16 years, then in half a century our salaries will have fallen by around 80 per cent in relation to average earnings," Mr Breeze said.
"Once the retirement bulge hits most of our institutions, will we be able to recruit the best brains? After the next general election it will have gone beyond mere urgency, it will have catastrophic implications."
He called for a restructuring of the AUT's organisation in order to give better representation to members with temporary contracts, who have worse job security, fewer rights and less pay.
"To me the differences between permanent and temporary staff are now bigger and more important than those between any other group," he said.
He added that the AUT was winning its fight against Universities and Colleges Employers Association proposals for changing future pay negotiations, in particular ending national bargaining and splitting academic and academic related staff's pay.
Most institutions in the old university sector were selecting option one - the status quo - as the appropriate starting point of negotiating change.
The employers' proposals attracted the largest number of motions at the meeting - all attacking the changes. These were due to be discussed today.