University and college lecturers' unions involved in an ongoing dispute over pay have rejected a "derisory" 6% pay increase offered by employers.
The AUT say they are still waiting for a 'serious' offer
The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) offered pay rises of 3% from August this year and an extra 3% from August 2007.
The main unions staging the dispute, Association of University Teachers and Natfhe, did not attend Tuesday's talks.
Lecturers are refusing to mark work or take part in appraisals.
The ongoing action follows a UK-wide strike on 7 March.
UCEA said the pay offer would exceed expected revenue from variable tuition fees, payable from this September.
The association said the pay increases would cost universities and colleges a total of more than £800m in 2006-07, including contributions to pension schemes, compared with an estimated extra income of £310m from tuition fees.
Geoffrey Copland, chairman of UCEA, said: "We have repeatedly made clear to the trade unions that universities and colleges are planning to invest significantly in staff pay and conditions.
"In 2006-07 more than double the new income from fees will be spent on increases to our pay bill."
UCEA made the offer to the other five unions attending the talks, saying Natfhe and the AUT "declined to suspend their action to attend the talks".
But the AUT and Natfhe said they were effectively barred.
The AUT says vice chancellors promised that at least a third of the £3.5 bn coming into the sector over the next three years would be spent on pay increases for academics, and accuses employers of going back on their pledge.
General Secretary Sally Hunt said making an offer without the presence of the two largest unions concerned was a "pointless publicity stunt".
"I am amazed that without us in the meeting to talk them through our fully costed pay claim, they could possibly think this derisory offer would satisfy our members."
It is less than half what vice chancellors paid themselves and way short of what Natfhe would regard as the basis for a settlement
And Roger Kline, head of universities for Natfhe, said: "A 6% offer over two years is completely unacceptable.
"It is less than half what vice chancellors paid themselves and way short of what Natfhe would regard as the basis for a settlement.
"It is hardly more than inflation and contains no element of a catch-up."
The unions said without a "serious" pay offer, the action would continue.
The AUT and Natfhe voted for industrial action in February, warning exams could be thrown into chaos if the dispute was not resolved.
A total of 64% of AUT members and 70% of Natfhe members who took part in the poll voted for strike action.
The unions say academics' pay has decreased by 40% over the last 20 years and has fallen far behind comparable professions such as doctors, lawyers and MPs.
We invited your comments. The selection below reflects the range of opinions received.
I work in the private sector and am watching this and the other unions' behaviour open mouthed. Don't you lot realise that the public sector now pays better than the private sector in many ways, and all you are doing by striking and drawing attention to your pay is ensuring the Labour party get voted out at the next election?
Tristan Palmer, London England
Have the unions really thought about how this affects the students, especially finalists? The pay lecturers receive is not enough but is it really fair to involve the students in something they have no control over?
Joanne Thompson, Keele
I am a member of the AUT and currently taking part in the action. The employers offer is extremely low given what they themselves have been awarded over the last few years - and derisory given the historic low pay of lecturers.
Like many of my colleagues I am torn in two ways because of the possiblity of our action affecting the students, but our employers claim vice chancellor pay rises have to keep in line with private sector rises at senior level - then refuse to give us even part of the historic decline in our pay. And they won't even give a guarantee that around a third of the top-up fee money will be spent on staff pay - even though that is what they told the government back in 2004.
It is disgraceful that the unions representing these lecturers are holding students to ransom. As a final year undergraduate student I find it absurd that lecturers are prepared to take action short of strike and undermine the hard work of students.
Having recently been told by my university to "keep my diary free for exams" until the issue is resolved, it is with outrage that I read in your article that they have rejected a pay offer of 6%! The action taken by these academics is having a profound effect on the morale and work of students, the people they are supposed to be helping.
As a member of Natfhe, I fully support my union's decision to incorporate student assessment into industrial action. Students, their parents, and of course the university employers must realise that Blair's mantra of "education, education, education" must be paid for. This requires bringing the salaries of highly qualified lecturers and researchers up to the same level as comparable professionals.
Dr Simon Cross, Nottingham, UK
What about students who have future arrangements? I have been accepted for a job abroad, but as a result of the AUT strike, I won't have my result by July. Therefore I will miss that job, because my overseas employer does not understand about the AUT and all the rest. Please solve it soon.
I am a mature student and one of my assessments has already been affected by the AUT's action. However, I am 100% behind the lecturers. They are the backbone of the universities, and deserve fair treatment. I for one will back the AUT all the way, and I hope my fellow students will do the same. Increasingly under-appreciated and unmotivated lecturers will ultimately turn universities into sub-standard learning institutions, and many will pursue research opportunities elsewhere.
CBC, Keele, Staffordshire
I sympathise completely with the lecturers, as I am seeing the consequences of having drastically too few staff in our universities. I am training to be a primary school teacher, but my ICT lessons are taken by a design and technology lecturer, who is not qualified to teach me in this subject. Office staff are leaving and my university cannot afford to replace them. Furthermore, my campus has been told it is overstaffed and must make 30 redundancies by the end of the academic year, even though they clearly do not have enough staff.
For each subject in schools, I must submit an assignment, which is then handed back to me with feedback comment for improvements, etc. Having not had ANY assignment back yet because of the strike means that I cannot hope to know how to learn from the assignments I do.
James, Manchester, UK
The expansion of higher education's been done on the cheap for the last 14 years and it's about time that the people who make it all possible - the academics - finally got a fair wage deal. I'm a student, and I'd like to see academics' wages reflect the work they put in. It's a disgrace that lecturers' wages are as low as they are - if this country wants top people to continue teaching in our universities rather than working overseas or in industry then it has to pay them a fair bit better than it does at the moment.
And if it takes unmarked coursework to do that, then it's a price worth paying.
Ed McKenna, London
Lecturers are once again inflicting pain on innocent students for their woes. Lecturers need to take a forensic look at colleagues in the private sector, whose pay and performance is much more stringently monitored. Ok, so lecturers don't get paid as much as they would like to - but who does? And aren't they forgetting their non-pay benefits like cushy working hours and protected pensions?
Get real lecturers - 6% is good, when most of us are getting nothing.
I think the lecturers are wrong to affect students like this. At the end of the day, students have paid their fees and they should be honoured by co-operative lecturers.
In the mean time, if lecturers actually wanted to hurt their employers, or at least make them think twice, then they should stop doing their RESEARCH, as this is where the real money lies for univeristies, and therefore the biggest statement that can be made. But of course, if they do this, then they might lose out on a fundamental discovery to someone at another university. This means that the only people put out by this action are the students. But hey, their fees don't amount to much so why care about them?
Matthew Leese, Newcastle, England
I'm all for fair wages for teachers, but the only people that this action short of a strike is affecting is the students, not the universities from which these lecturers are trying to get their pay raised. Why must students suffer in the crossfire? As an overseas student, I'm paying exorbitant amounts of money to study in Scotland, and am trying to understand why my (expensive) education is being undermined in this way. Surely both sides can come to a resolution quickly for the sake of the whole reason that they exist...the students!
Michelle, Aberdeen, Scotland