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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Q&A: University row over pay
lecturers staging a walkout in March
Lecturers say their pay has fallen behind other professions
Unions representing higher education lecturers and related academic staff across the UK have rejected a 13.1% pay rise over three years. So an exam and coursework-marking boycott goes on, possibly affecting thousands of students.

Why are lecturers taking this action?

University staff claim academic pay has fallen in real terms over the past 20 years or so by 40% compared with that of equivalent professions.

They are seeking rises which, over three years, would begin to "catch up" - addressing the relative decline - then "keep up" with the rise in public sector earnings. The unions estimate this would involve rises of approximately 20%.

Union members say employers could increase their wages because of extra money coming into universities from top-up fees.

Raising staff salaries and conditions was one of the arguments the government gave for introducing "top-up" tuition fees in England's universities.

Who is involved?

The University and College Union (UCU) which represents academic and related staff, is the main union involved.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), representing similar staff in newer universities in Scotland, is not formally in dispute.

It is balloting its members on industrial action after its leaders recommended rejecting the employers' previous offer of 12.6%. Its executive has adopted a "wait and see" attitude on the revised offer of 13.1%.

Support staff in universities and colleges of higher education are also seeking better wages. The four unions representing them are Unison, Amicus, the TGWU and the GMB.

According to employers, these unions have accepted the 13.1% deal.

What has the action involved so far?

The unions AUT and Natfhe - which have since merged to become the UCU - staged a one-day walkout on 7 March.

Members have since been boycotting university assessment. In practice, this means refusing to mark work and exams or take part in appraisals. Former AUT members (now in the UCU) are refusing to set exams.

What have the employers offered?

In March, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) offered pay rises of 3% from August this year and an extra 3% from August 2007. This was rejected by AUT and Natfhe as "derisory".

So, in May, employers raised the offer to a "best and final" 12.6% over three years and, after it was rejected, revised it to 13.1%. This was dismissed as "miserly".

Several universities have made their own offers, but unions have rejected these in favour of pursuing a national settlement.

How do students feel?

Many students are quite sympathetic to their tutors' calls for more money. The National Union of Students has supported the marking boycott, saying better-paid lecturers will improve the university experience.

But it has repeatedly called for an end to the exam-setting boycott.

More than 30 "rebel" student unions have complained about the NUS position. These say it is wrong to support industrial action which is having a detrimental effect.

What is the impact on students?

It has been patchy. Some have been unaffected - they may be in a department where union membership is low or non-existent or they may be at a point in their studies where they are not required to submit much coursework.

But students in departments with a strong union membership, often arts subjects, may be much harder hit.

What does the government say?

Education secretary Alan Johnson has urged lecturers' unions to accept the "very generous" deal on offer. He said he believed members of the unions would accept the offer if it was put to them.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell has said he is "extremely concerned" over the possible effect on students.

What happens now?

Institutions have been making various contingency plans to cope with a situation in which students are unable to graduate normally - or progress to the next year of study - because their work has not been examined or marked.

But unions and employers are continuing their stand-off, with an immediate resolution looking unlikely.

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11 May 06 |  Education
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10 May 06 |  Education

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