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University Lecturers

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 25 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about salary scales for university lecturers.

The Department has received about 1,800 letters in the past two months on the pay of university academic and related staff.

How does the Secretary of State justify the 20 per cent. cut in real terms in the pay of university lecturers since the Government came into office in 1979? Is that a sign of the Government's feelings about the true worth of those who are responsible for helping our young people to be properly trained? Is he aware of the burden that that places upon university lecturers at a time when the Government are cutting university finance by 2 per cent. per year? When will the Government see sense?

The figures and judgment produced by the hon. Gentleman are the result of a selective choice of dates. I understand that university teachers' pay has kept pace with the cost of living.

Has my right hon. Friend seen last week's Audit Commission report, which calculated that at least 75,000 extra students could be taught, in view of the present small classes? As well as agreeing new salary scales for college lecturers, should he not also find better ways to employ them more fully?

My hon. Friend focuses upon something slightly different—the non-advanced level of further education upon which the Audit Commission has produced a significant report. With regard to universities, polytechnics and colleges, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend and the House that the student-staff ratio in polytechnics has improved a great deal. It is nearer to what the Government judge to be the proper level for a student-staff ratio.

What representations has the Secretary of State received about the glaring injustice in the remuneration of university lecturers in medical schools when compared with similar employees in the NHS? Is it not about time that some comparability was achieved?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am aware of the problem and am, of course, waiting to see what the relevant authorities will recommend. Universities must live within their budget, which comes mainly from the public sector, and decide on their own priorities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Audit Commission gave praise as well as blame? Would it not be nice if occasionally some praise were given to those who work in higher education?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I do that most gladly. I seem to be constantly praising — the latest occasion was in front of the Select Committee this morning — the outstanding reputation that our higher education system has across the world.

Is the Secretary of State convinced that the present salary levels, other than those in the clinical sector, are sufficient to attract people of the highest ability into university teaching in those subjects about which he is most worried?

I hope that I am worried about all subjects. The Green Paper on higher education recognises that the essentially national system of pay is not necessarily the ideal way to attract the highest talents, and has invited comments upon possible alternatives.

Does my right hon. Friend accept the gist of what I have put in early-day motion 805, relating to academics in higher education in the medical sector? Does he accept that the statement by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) is correct, and that a proper comparison should be made between those in the Health Service who administer health care and those who teach in the universities, and that their salaries should be comparable? It is no good awaiting reports. My right hon. Friend should act now to ensure that that is the case.

I understand the essence of what my hon. Friend says, but there is a body called the clinical academic staff salaries committee which is considering how to reflect the salary arrangements made for doctors and dentists in the NHS in those made for clinical academic staff. I must await its advice and the reaction of the universities.

Instead of giving praise, will the Secretary of State find a little extra money for those who work in universities? Does he accept that there is not just a problem with the clinical staff and those who work in the NHS, but that there is also an increasing problem in science and technology, where there appears to be a growing brain drain from this country to the United States and Canada?

On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I accept that if evidence accumulates of a net brain drain, as opposed to an exchange of brains, the position is worrying. That is why I spoke only a week ago of the importance that I attach to the ABRC's recommendations for science. However, I warn the hon. Gentleman that, because he is always getting up and undertaking to spend more public money, the cumulative total will completely discredit his party.