Academic unions will this week submit pay claims to employers in what promises to be the toughest climate for talks since the early 1980s.
The Association for University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe are seeking "substantial pay rises above inflation" as universities struggle with reduced allocations averaging 5 per cent. "It is hard to see how a substantial pay claim can be met," said Steve Rouse of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.
If vice chancellors and academic unions clash over the pay round their new unity, forged in an attempt to reverse Government funding cuts, could be jeopardised.
While acknowledging the productivity gains delivered by lecturers, Mr Rouse said universities would be forced to make cuts elsewhere, including reductions in posts, to finance large pay rises. Technicians have already submitted a pay claim of 7 per cent through their union Manfacturing Science and Finance.
But the AUT refuses to accept that institutions cannot afford salary increases, saying that universities receive substantial income over and above their recurrent grant, and most had healthy reserves. "These are said to be held in case of emergency but this is an emergency," a spokesman said. "If they won't use their reserves now, when will they use them?" The AUT said only an independent pay review body would provide a secure long-term basis for restoring pay levels. It had hoped to submit a joint claim with Natfhe but the pay review issue has proved a sticking point over which they have failed to reach agreement. Natfhe policy is against independent pay reviews although its members are to be consulted. "We are not convinced that a pay review body would deliver better pay or address conditions of service," said Amanda Hart, acting higher education negotiator for Natfhe.
David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, said academic and related staff deserved a decent pay rise since they had delivered a 50 per cent increase in graduate numbers with 30 per cent less resources.
"Their reward for this has been a steady erosion of salaries which are now worth only 7 per cent more than a decade ago," he said.