PAY will dominate the annual conferences of academic and academic-related staff unions that kick off this week.
Unison, which holds its conference for university and college members tomorrow, has already said it cannot recommend the final offer from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association of a 2 per cent rise for six months and a further 1.8 per cent for the remaining six to its members. It will call for an increase in pay linked to its policy of a Pounds 4.42 per hour national minimum wage. All manual staff in old universities and 92 per cent of those in new universities earn below this figure.
Elaine Harrison, Unison's head of higher education, said the pay offer would hit the lowest paid hard. Two per cent meant just 7p an hour extra for some workers.
Other issues to be discussed by the 250 conference delegates in Harrogate will include: casualisation, setting up a youth forum to encourage more young union members, equal opportunities, the outcome of the Dearing report, the effect of tuition fee charges and the Independent Review Committee into pay and conditions of staff.
Hot issues for the Association of University Teachers, which starts its conference on Wednesday, will also centre on pay and casualisation. The result of a ballot of members asking for views on the pay offer should be made known early in the three-day meeting.
Depending on the result, debate could then focus on industrial action. The conference will repeat its call for a pay review body and for harmonising pay scales, promotion and superannuation schemes in pre and post-1992 institutions. It will look to local associations to secure abolition of waiver clauses and fixed-term contracts.
But the AUT's meeting in Worthing will also attack the research assessment exercise for putting too much pressure on staff who do not conform to the narrow definition of research made in the exercise. It is expected to criticise increased Ofsted powers to inspect teacher training in universities as possible threats to academic freedom.
Other motions will call for more resources for the Institute for Learning and Teaching and the research councils. A motion from Imperial College, London, calls on the union to campaign for compulsory disclosure of membership of masonic lodges, while the Open University expresses concern about the University for Industry.
A lively debate on relations with the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education is expected.
Local associations have submitted motions calling on the AUT leadership to make a better effort at working with Natfhe and not trying to poach their members.
Natfhe will enter this debate the following week at its conference in Eastbourne, pledging support for a council for post-school unions but repeating its opposition to the AUT's favoured pay review body. The union will use the conference to gather opinions on the pay offer, which it has not recommended to its members.
Motions have also been submitted on accountability of boards of governors, the New Deal and increasing use of agency staff. Natfhe, which is likely to condemn government policies on tuition fees, will also debate wider political issues, from single-parent allowances to religious tolerance.