From education to employment

Put Pay to Promises

Up to a staggering 75% of the new income from university top-up fees will go unaccounted for; and according to the University & College Lecturers” Union, NATFHE, very little if any will find its way into the underpaid pockets of academic staff.

When persuading MPs to vote in favour of the controversial fee, the Government self-righteously declared that universities intend to use one third of the revenue to improve salaries and conditions. Nearly two years on since the narrow acceptance of the widely-unpopular Bill and there are still no plans, no regulations and no real evidence to support such a promise.

NATFHE Strike out with New Campaign

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education is running a joint campaign with the AUT to demand that the Government now acts on what have so far proved to be hollow pledges. Specifically, they want to see at least a third of the proceeds generated from top-up fees and other new income ring-fenced for enhancing pay packets.

With British lecturers making substantially less money than equivalent professionals, such as tax inspectors who can earn upwards of £20,000 more, and receiving comparably low pay increases over the last decade, both of the unions are prepared for lobbying and, if necessary, concerted industrial action.

Andy Pike, the National Official for Higher Education at NATFHE, spoke to FE News about the “arm’s-length relationship” with authority, which is cherished by the higher education sector: “I think that Government, to an extent, panders to this relationship by providing pots of money without having sufficient leverage available as to how it is used,” he explained, adding “the campaign has been launched to make a point, very publicly, about where this money is going.”

And Where is the Money Going?

Back in 2001 the then Secretary of State, David Blunkett, welcomed a new publicly financed scheme called Rewarding and Developing Staff(RDS), which he announced was “all about improving pay and equality for staff in the [higher education] sector”. However, despite the fact that by the end of next year one-billion-pounds in taxpayers” money will have been filtered into RDS funding, salaries are still in a steady decline.

NATFHE and the AUT recently used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal how the money to-date has been used. Evidence of wasted expenditure has since been forwarded on to a select committee who are set to quiz the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) on their past, present and future spending plans.

In regards to RDS, Pike referred to confusion between Government announcements and the administration process carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). “We have a situation whereby the government announces new funding for pay. The HE sector then consults the HEFCE who have set specific guidelines, none of which mention pay, and decide it’s all very well but we”ve got other things we want to spend the money on!”

Once More”¦Where’s The Money?

“Other things” such as building management capacity, offering sweeteners and rewarding themselves with a much bigger hand in the profits than that which they use to pat on the backs of their underpaid staff. “Most [university] Vice Chancellors award themselves say between 10 and 20 percent in terms of an annual increase, but are very reluctant to put pay at the top of their agenda,” alleged Pike.

Like most students NATFHE do not believe that the top-up fee is an equitable means of funding the higher education system, but as it is a reality, they want to make sure it is invested into the very causes that won it support. Entrusting “businessmen” to do the right thing is akin to telling an 8-year-old that sweets are bad for their teeth and then giving them a £10 note to do as they please.

“There needs to be generous provision for student support”¦and teaching staff need to be paid properly for the work they do,” said Pike.

Phillip Byrne, Union Affairs Correspondent

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