Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

"ACADEMIC SALARIES REVIEW BODY (1) The Secretary of State shall appoint an Academic Salaries Review Body ("the Review Body") to provide independent advice on the remuneration of teachers and researchers in institutions of higher and further education in the United Kingdom. (2) In reaching its recommendations the Review Body is to take into account— (a) comparability between academic salaries and those of other professions since 1950, and (b) the need to recruit, retain and motivate suitable and qualified academic staff in a full range of academic disciplines in institutions of higher and further education in the United Kingdom. (3) In appointing members of the Review Body the Secretary of State shall include representation from institutions of higher and further education and from other professions including those for which a university degree is not an obligatory qualification. (4) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to submit the report of the Review Body annually to both Houses of Parliament together with his own plans in relation to the implementation of its recommendations."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, several noble Lords have already observed that the trouble with this Bill is that it does not altogether effectively address the central problems in our higher education system today. Among these are under-funding of staff, as well as of the under-funding of universities in general, and
8 Jun 2004 : Column 161
an astonishing insensitivity to the central dilemma of access; namely, that students from low income backgrounds are often debt averse.

I declare an interest as a university professor. In Committee, I introduced an amendment, and my intention was to focus attention on what everyone agrees is one of the most serious problems affecting our universities today. University staff are very poorly paid. The gap in remuneration between university teachers and other professions has steadily increased over the past 20 to 40 years. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell—I am sorry that I do not see him in his place—emphasised that point at Second Reading. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat spoke very effectively to that amendment, as did other noble Lords.

In Committee, however, I placed my proposed academic salaries review body under the wing of the new Arts and Humanities Research Council, which was widely felt to be unsuitable. Following the advice of several noble Lords who spoke, I have now been able to rectify that. Moreover, following the later advice of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and others, I have simplified the proposal, which makes the plan much less prescriptive in its specifications concerning the composition of the board.

I was taken aback in Committee when one much respected noble Lord opposite, after endorsing the figures that I had quoted—a 45 per cent decline in academic earnings compared to non-manual income over the past 20 years—very soundly observed that that was so well known that there may be no need,

I am afraid that it is beyond my power and, I suspect, beyond the power of this House to generate the necessary funding by amendment. We all know that the fee income generated by the Bill will go about half way to cover the universities' current recurrent funding deficit. It is therefore highly unlikely that it will make any significant positive impact on the current level of salaries. It will be lucky to pay them, let alone to increase them.

We can at least show that this is a matter of continuing concern of which we and others deserve to be reminded annually until some effective move can be made to rectify the position. That is what the amendment seeks to do. It is a rather modest amendment, but it will at least have the effect of keeping that important issue before our eyes. I beg to move.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I am happy to add my name to this amendment and therefore to support it very much in the terms that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. When I began practice in the National Health Service at its inception in 1948—I subsequently served in it for 40 years—there were repeated problems and many
8 Jun 2004 : Column 162
conflicts between the members of the medical profession on the one hand and government on the other relating to pay and other financial support for doctors.

The first row came within two years when GPs complained, as independent contractors, that their salaries were inadequate. It turned out that the Government had taken GP income tax returns before the National Health Service as a guide to what their subsequent remuneration should be. When the GPs found that to be inadequate, it perhaps suggested that general practitioners were no more honest than the rest of the population in relation to their income tax returns.

Over the years, there was conflict after conflict. There were repeated negotiations between doctors, government and the Department of Health in relation to remuneration issues, which were sometimes so bitter and prolonged that the late Baroness Castle of Blackburn, when she was Secretary of State for Health, referred to the British Medical Association as the shock troops of the middle classes.

This preamble is relevant because when ultimately the Government agreed to establish a review body relating to the remuneration of doctors and dentists those conflicts ceased. Ever since that review body was established, there has been a satisfactory situation where government and the profession have agreed with the advice of that review body on all issues relating to remuneration. Similar issues arose over the pay of nurses and teachers and other review bodies have been similarly effective.

When the Bett report on academic salaries was published a few years ago, I remember asking a question in this House. The then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who I am glad to see in her place, said that the Bett report was an important report but that the remuneration of academic staff was a matter for the universities and not for government. No doubt, we shall get the same response from the Minister today.

A major issue of remuneration of university academic and research staff exists in the terms that were so clearly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. To establish a review body to give advice to government on the remuneration of teachers and researchers in higher and further education would help to resolve that problem. I am therefore happy to support the amendment.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, I spoke on this issue before. Again, perhaps I may warmly congratulate the two noble Lords who have spoken on the principle of what has been raised. There is no question but that the low level of academic stipend has been an extraordinary national scandal for a very long time; in fact, since 1979–80. These are very talented people who, commonly and necessarily, because they do graduate work, enter the profession later than many other people. Although top salaries have risen, the starting point is still very low, the spine is very long and the general economic and financial expectations of university teachers are appalling. I speak as a former vice-chancellor. The situation was bad nine years ago and it is worse now.
8 Jun 2004 : Column 163

We have funding for the universities, which is enormously welcome, but, inevitably, the new funding will go into proper development and the building up of the superstructure facilities for students, and so forth. There will not be anything like sufficient funds for those very talented, very poorly paid people in our society. It may be that the Government will say that this is perhaps the wrong Bill in which to have this particular proposal, which I can understand. But if that is the reply, I should be very grateful if my noble friend the Minister would tell us what would be the right Bill and what would be the procedure.

It seems that a yardstick of some unassailable kind is needed for university stipends: when I began as a university teacher in the 1950s, they were part of the public service scales of the Civil Service. That has long been set aside. Now university teachers are left to the mercy of cash-strapped universities and the most valuable people—the people who create our university system—are the victims. If the amendment is not acceptable in its present form, I hope that we shall hear from the Government what would be acceptable and whether very urgent action will or will not be taken to deal with this national scandal.

Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, I agree so strongly with the three speeches that have just been made that there is very little to add. I declare an interest as Chancellor of the University of Bath. I think that a great many problems in the economy and social matters can often be helped towards a solution if there is a degree of publicity and transparency surrounding them.

It may be very well known in this House, in academia or in Whitehall that academic salaries have fallen very far behind comparable activities, but I do not believe that it is so tremendously well known in the public at large. My impression is that among the public at large there is a certain misunderstanding about the levels of remuneration for academics and a certain assumption that everyone lives like Oxbridge dons used to live before the war. It may be surprising that that misapprehension remains, but I think that to a large degree it does in many circles.

Therefore, the important point in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, is his reference to providing "independent advice". I think that the provision of independent advice, which would, I hope, receive a suitable amount of publicity in the newspapers, and so forth, would contribute to public understanding and therefore to the resolution of the problem.

I am struck by the success achieved over time—it did take a long time—by the Senior Salaries Review Body in bringing about an improvement in the salaries of senior civil servants and even, to some extent, of Ministers. The extent to which senior civil servants now earn salaries below those of their comparators in some other professions is much less than it was before these matters received publicity.

I want to make only one small comment on the wording of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. It refers to comparability between academic salaries and those of other professions. For this
8 Jun 2004 : Column 164
body to do its work most effectively, it should compare full professors in universities with personal assistants in the financial services sector. Personal assistants in financial services provide an indispensable service, as I know well and to my own benefit, but it is strange that full professors in universities often earn less than such personal assistants. Comparisons of that sort and, indeed, of others made by an advisory body of this kind would be helpful.

Of course I accept, along with other noble Lords, that it is for the universities themselves as employers to take decisions about how much their employees are to be paid, but that in itself is not an argument against a body of the sort recommended by my noble friend. Quite apart from whatever the Minister may say about who is responsible for salaries, I would be very interested to hear why it would be a bad thing for more publicity and transparency to be brought to bear in this area.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page