Universities are pushing ahead with plans for a system to define staff roles in higher education "from porter through to professor".
A computerised model evaluating manual, administrative, technical and academic jobs, which could be linked to a single pay spine for all staff, may be produced by the end of next academic year.
A feasibility study for the project, commissioned by the "competency consortium" and set up by a group of institutions last autumn, has given the idea the green light. Consultants will now be invited to produce a working model which might be implemented by 1997.
The move was welcomed at the Universities Personnel Association conference in Cardiff last week by the UPA's incoming chairman, William Sutherland. He said a common grading structure spanning all staff in old and new universities was needed for legal purposes and for the personnel management needs of institutions. It could also help moves towards a single pay spine and single- table bargaining already being considered by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.
Institutions have been forced to take a fresh look at staff grading structures following the introduction of new European legislation demanding equal pay for jobs of equal value. Employers are no longer able to fall back on separate pay spines for different categories of staff as an excuse for different rates of pay when challenged on the grounds of equal opportunities.
The proposed system should give both institutions and staff a clearer definition of each job, what abilities are needed, and how these relate to other roles. It may then help them plan careers and promotions, as well as pay. But the model would only be a guide for institutions.
"The intention is not that everyone should do the same thing, but to have a working model which is flexible enough for institutions to have more control locally over pay and conditions," Mr Sutherland said.
Steve Rouse, chief executive of the consortium and of the UCEA, said: "We do not know yet whether all work of equal value is equally paid. That is one thing the model should help us determine."