Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Josiah Mason sixth-form college in my former parliamentary constituency of Birmingham Erdington. There is a certain attraction in this amendment and I think that there is agreement on all sides of the House that academic salaries in both higher and further education have become out of kilter. However, I have to say how much I agree with a note I have received from the Association of Colleges, which may also have been sent to other noble Lords. It makes the point that this amendment is an attempt to treat both the higher education sector and the further education sector as if they were parts of the public sector. They are not. Indeed, it was the noble Lord's government of a few years ago that took them out of the public sector and incorporated them as independent bodies. Since then they have been responsible for their own affairs.

I turn now to talk about the further education sector. After many difficulties during the changeover period, the colleges are now responsible for negotiating levels of salary with all their staff, not only their academic staff. An immediate effect of this amendment, were it to be carried, would be to do away with that system, thus sending us back to conducting a plethora of negotiations in colleges up and down the land.

The more important objection to the amendment is that it attacks the independence of colleges. Certainly it was my experience, when the colleges were taken out of the public sector and made to stand on their feet, that part of that process meant that, while standing on their own feet they also went for each other's throats. I can say from personal knowledge that in the city of Birmingham there was a period of some years when every college wanted to attract the maximum number of students. They did not care two hoots about what happened to the college down the road and, let it be said, little consideration was given to the courses on offer—whether they repeated courses already available a couple of miles away or whether the needs
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 165
 
of certain groups of students were ignored altogether. What had happened was that the accountants were put in control.

Happily, those days are over. I can speak only of the City of Birmingham, but today there is extremely good co-operation between the colleges in the city. I hope that that is also the case elsewhere. Colleges sit down together to plan provision across the city for the various age groups, not least for the enormous number of adult part-time students who, rather than going back into education, are increasingly entering education properly for the first time in their lives. Instead of colleges competing with each other, sensible co-operation now applies.

I have some sympathy for the wish to put the clock back, but I do not think for a moment that the noble Lord is arguing for a return of colleges of further education to the public sector. However, given that they stand on their own feet, I do not see how what is suggested in the amendment can be imposed upon these independent bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, cited the experience of the National Health Service, which makes my point exactly. The National Health Service is in the public sector with one employer, the Government. That example helps to make my point in objecting to what is being proposed in the amendment. Not for a minute do I seek to quarrel with anyone who points out that there is a real crisis in the payment levels of those in higher and further education which ought to be addressed, but I do not feel that this is the way in which to do so.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am reminded of the days when I was a parliamentary candidate. When knocking on doors and canvassing, people would say, "I would vote for you if I thought you could win". I have much sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, as well as for the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Detchant, who emphasised the satisfactory work of pay review bodies on some occasions. Nevertheless, I also pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that the amendment seems to look back to a different era. As he rightly pointed out, colleges and universities are now independent. When we raised the issue of the Betts report, the answer given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, at the time was that this is a "matter for the colleges". Today that is a fact.

A new pay scale has just been negotiated and agreed. It is a very long one and embraces its own areas. In a sense, therefore, a degree of locally negotiated pay is now coming in; the system is moving in that direction and it would be difficult to roll it back. Members on these Benches have sympathy for the case for a little more in terms of nationally negotiated arrangements but, equally, times have moved on. Therefore I do not feel that this amendment is appropriate.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Baroness has just pointed out that there is a new pay
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 166
 
scale. However, the point here is that—as we were told by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, when this matter was raised in Committee—within universities staff pay accounts for 58 per cent of their total expenditure. That means that if academic salaries in the universities are to be brought up to a reasonable level, they need much more money, but the extra funding that they will receive under this Bill is to be limited by a cap. So the Government are doing nothing to help the universities achieve this.

I hope that the Minister is not going to say in response that this is a matter for the universities and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. However, she is smiling so perhaps that is exactly what she is going to say. However, that is simply not going to help the situation at all because the extra money under the Bill is so limited.

The point made by my noble friends Lord Tugendhat and Lord Renfrew that a little publicity would help things along is important. Whether that comes about from a review body or by some other means, regular publicity highlighting academic salaries would help the public to understand that the Government themselves are being extremely frustrating about this matter. Somehow, academic salaries have to improve, but if 58 per cent of universities' budgets is already accounted for in this way, it is no good us looking to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to achieve that unless it is given a lot more money to do so.

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, I rise briefly to speak in favour of the amendment for much the same reasons just outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour: it would give publicity to this issue. For some years, as Chancellor of a Scottish university, I have been all too aware of the very low level of academic salaries, but it is only recently that I have come more directly back into contact with Oxbridge, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. How distant it is from any dreams one might have had of what those places were like before the Second World War.

The college of which I am Master has recently lost a Fellow who concluded that he could no longer go on in the expectation of a salary that would always be lower than that of the driver of a train on the London Underground. Consequently we have lost a man of great brilliance and great potential.

I believe that there is a need to bring these facts to the attention of the informed public and Members of Parliament on a regular basis without, I hope, ever getting into a situation where that becomes restrictive. It is terribly important that universities should be able to raise salaries for academic staff who deserve it. We should not get into a situation where everything is rigidly set down in rules and flexibility is reduced.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has returned to the subject that he raised in Committee. I was very struck by what my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said. Not long ago, I was speaking to a leading law firm, not too far from here,
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 167
 
and was told that its starting salaries were £80,000 a year. An academic finishing a career would not be earning anything approaching that kind of salary.

I have made the point in your Lordships' House before that academics are underpaid, under-resourced, undervalued but overburdened by bureaucracy. If we are to continue to deliver a high quality of education able to compete with that offered in other countries, each of these problems has to be addressed. My noble friend's amendment is therefore necessary but not sufficient.

I declare an interest not only as an academic but, perhaps more importantly in this context, as a head of department. I am conscious of the extent to which universities are surviving on the good will of academics. I am profoundly aware of how much members of my department are putting in to ensure a level of excellence in teaching and research that is not met by the salaries they receive. As the head of department I know the problems of recruitment and retention as a result of inadequate salaries and working conditions. We cannot carry on without addressing the question of poor salaries; we cannot carry on without addressing the issue of resources. That is why the later amendment on additionality is so important.

It can be argued—and has been—that the amendment may not be appropriate in the Bill, but I want to draw out the relationship between the Bill and the problem embodied in subsection (2)(b) of my noble friend's proposed new clause. Students will incur substantial debts in taking a first degree; if they want an academic career, they will need to devote their time and finances to acquiring a doctorate; by the time they are ready to enter the academic world in their mid to late twenties, they will be carrying a massive burden of debt. Why then should they go in to a poorly paid university job when they can earn far more abroad or in another profession? We must recognise the linkage.

We simply cannot go on as we are. There are already major problems with recruitment and retention. They will become worse if the cost of education increases and the salaries paid to academics continue to decline relative to other professions. For the reasons I have touched upon, I therefore welcome my noble friend's amendment. It addresses a major problem that confronts higher education and which is likely to become even more of a problem once the Bill has been enacted.

In replying, the Minister will not only be responding to a specific amendment but sending out a wider message to higher education. It is vital that that is not a negative message.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page