Universities could face the most damaging campaign of industrial action in their history this autumn after the Association of University Teachers rejected last week's pay offer and lecturers' union Natfhe refused to recommend the pay and reform package to members, writes Phil Baty.
The AUT has put in place plans for a campaign of industrial action designed for the first time to "hurt" students, with possible boycotts of assessment and admissions, combined with one-day strikes.
Although AUT members were not due to vote on the offer until the autumn, the executive's decision made it unlikely that members would vote in favour of the package, which includes fundamental reform of career structures.
Natfhe's executive deferred its decision.
The key concern was that the deal - 7.7 per cent over two years - fell far short of the 28 per cent they demanded, and paled into insignificance against the 40 per cent shortfall accepted by the prime minister. The offer was for 3.44 per cent for 2003-04, but just 3 per cent for the second year.
Natfhe wanted to return to the negotiating table to insert a "re-opener" clause, allowing the second-year offer to be renegotiated if inflation reaches 3 per cent. The package depended on lecturers accepting the most fundamental shake-up of their career structure for 40 years, including elements such as performance-related pay.
As part of the deal, staff must sign up to the Framework Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures , where everyone will be placed on a single new pay spine. All academic staff will have their roles and responsibilities formally evaluated, and they will be placed into one of five new job grades.
There was concern that at the top of each grade a number of pay increments would depend on "contribution" (performance) rather than simply on length of service. The unions were concerned that this would not be a fair and transparent process.
An AUT statement said: "The executive believes that the inadequacy of the offer reflects a disregard by the employers for the current negotiating arrangements."
Andy Pike, national official at Natfhe, said: "We will be making no recommendation at this stage as we want further clarification."
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said: "We need to clarify the position with the AUT. If it wants to resume talks on points of clarification and details, that is not a problem. But if it is seeking any fundamental changes then that is not possible."