HC Deb 04 April 1989 vol 150 cc5-7
5. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on academic salaries in universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

My right hon. Friend has received representations from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Association of University Teachers seeking additional funds for pay increases for university staff. He has also had many letters about salary levels in universities and in criticism of the boycott of examination work by lecturers.

Mr. Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that those academics who are refusing, or threatening to refuse, to mark examination papers are behaving in an unacademic, immoral way which is tantamount to blackmail? Does he also agree that some of them may well be in breach of their contractual obligations to their university, and will he advise pusillanimous principals to take the necessary disciplinary measures against them?

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is right. The money offered represents a fair increase in academic pay. The Government have put in extra money and there is no more to come. I hope that all parts of the House join us in condemning any prospect of the rejection of that offer, because that would put students at risk and damage the professional reputation of British university academics.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister recognise that university teachers have a justifiable complaint, given that they received a 0.5 per cent. increase last year and have just been offered 6 per cent. for this year? In view of the great Budget surplus of which the Government are so proud, and given that we cannot allow students to suffer, with the prospect of no examinations in the summer, will the Secretary of State and his Ministers take the initiative by pouring oil on troubled waters and offer to talk about more money in return for the lecturers offering to suspend their action and allow this summer's examinations to take place?

Mr. Jackson

The House should appreciate the context and the sequence of events. On 1 December 1986 there was an increase of 16.6 per cent., and on 1 March 1988, an increase of 7.4 per cent. That meant a 24 per cent. increase in dons' pay between 1985 and 1988, at a time when the retail price index rose by only 13 per cent. There is now an offer from 1 March 1989 of the equivalent of 6.5 per cent., with a further 1 per cent. due for discretionary payments from October. That is a very reasonable and generous offer that has involved additional Government resources, and it should be accepted.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My hon. Friend will acknowledge that Nottingham university is not exactly a hotbed of militant unrest. Nevertheless, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of this particular case, and regardless of whose figures are right, does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, particularly in science and managerial disciplines, we cannot offer the salaries that will ensure the standards that we believe are necessary in higher education in the long term?

Mr. Jackson

Some evidence was provided—it must be said, rather scanty evidence—of recruitment and retention difficulties in some areas in the universities. That was one of the reasons that led the Government to advance proposals for extra money. The key to solving the problem lies in increased differentiation in university pay. That element has been included in the offer we have made.

Mr. Andrew Smith

Does the Minister acknowledge that his letter published in The Independent last Thursday and his advocacy of university teachers moonlighting to make up what he conceded to be a 25 per cent. cut in their relative pay is singularly ill-judged and insulting, and provides incendiary support for the cause of rejecting the ballot offer? Is moonlighting now the policy of the Government throughout public sector higher education, and is it the policy also of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Jackson

I was attempting to meet the argument that there has been a 25 per cent. cut in dons' pay relative to average earnings. I made the rather elementary point, which I hope the hon. Gentleman understands, that pay is not the same as earnings, and that there is reason to believe that the earnings of academics have increased in the same way as the earnings of other people. It is appropriate for the Government to encourage dons to write books and articles, undertake consultancies, and to assume directorships—all of which involve extra earnings.