Weary Ucea set to pull offer

May 19, 2006

Employers' body may bow out and leave vice-chancellors to settle locally. Phil Baty and Anthea Lipsett report

Employers are poised to withdraw their national 12.6 per cent pay offer to academics and leave universities to settle the pay dispute locally, it emerged this week.

The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association could relinquish its national negotiating role within weeks, instead advising members to make local offers.

The association has reached an impasse in negotiations with the Association of University Teachers and Natfhe. Both have rejected the 12.6 per cent three-year deal on offer nationally.

Seven universities have lost patience with national bargaining and are imposing, or have threatened to impose, local deals. They are: St Andrews, Aberdeen, East Anglia, Huddersfield, Oxford Brookes, Glasgow Caledonian and Heriot-Watt. A further 14 vice-chancellors said that they were considering local deals.

One Ucea board member said: "Ucea will leave the offer on the table and, if it gets no response, it will take it off the table and advise its members to negotiate locally. It has been discussed at the board.

"All the larger institutions want to go to local negotiations. They could end up bargaining collectively in groupings - such as the Russell Group or 1994 Group. Most AUT members at my university would accept the current deal but it has not been put to the ballot."

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of Ucea, this week told the Commons Education Select Committee: "National bargaining is being tested to its absolute limit. If there is no resolution to this dispute fairly quickly we will have a serious problem with institutions wanting to break away."

But Ms Prudence is urging vice-chancellors to hold to national bargaining for the time being. Ucea members were due to meet this week after The Times Higher went to press.

The AUT and Natfhe are now engaged in a battle to halt the slide towards local settlements. The AUT has intervened at St Andrews University, declaring a local AUT ballot, which overwhelmingly accepted the university's 12.5 per cent three-year deal, invalid.

Natfhe is threatening to sue Huddersfield University, which will impose a 5 per cent interim one-year rise from August.

Andy Pike, Natfhe's national official for higher education, said it challenged a key principle of the Employment Relations Act that stipulated that union members had the right not to have a pay offer imposed on them if it would in effect undermine national negotiations.

Tim Boatswain, pro vice-chancellor of Huddersfield, said: "Whatever comes out of national talks, we will honour it."

In addition to those universities that are settling, or have threatened to settle locally, 14 institutions may follow suit. They include Dundee, Bath, Robert Gordon, Chester, Cambridge and Bristol. At least eight others are considering local deals but asked to remain anonymous.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

anthea.lipsett@thes.co.uk

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