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A consultation document on student finance in Northern Ireland has been issued by the Department of Higher and Further Education Training and Employment. The document outlines the current student support arrangements as well as recent developments in student support in Scotland, England and Wales.
Of the 37,300 Northern Ireland students currently in full time education, 49% currently pay no fees, 22% make some contribution and 29% pay the full contribution of £1025. As far as maintenance is concerned, all new students must support themselves through the parental contribution, earned income or student loans.
With regard to developments elsewhere, the most important within the UK is the decision by the Scottish Executive to abolish tuition fees for full-time higher education students in Scotland and to make access funds available to students from low income families. It is also worth noting that higher education students in the Republic of Ireland currently pay no tuition fees, although there is a IR£278 charge (met by the Education and Library Boards) for registration, examination fees and student services.
In conjunction with our colleagues at UU, Queen’s AUT made an oral presentation to the Department and we will also submit a written report. The guiding principle of our submission was that access to Higher Education should be free at the point of entry. While we argued that the Scottish model provided a useful starting point, we stressed the importance of the maintenance issue and pointed out that current levels of provision meant that students received less support than they would if they were living off state benefits. We also pointed to estimates by NUS-USI that 60% of supposedly full-time students are in part-time jobs for an average of 18 hours per week to the detriment both of their studies and their overall experience of university life. AUT also urged the Department to examine ways in which employers might increase their contribution to the funding of third level education.
I hardly need to convince you of how uncompetitive our salaries are, but new evidence comes from the pay scales for universities in the Irish Republic. Even with the present poor exchange rate many of you will be envious. University salaries in the south are tied to the civil service and there is none of the hassle of annual pay disputes. These rates are from 1/4/00, but staff are already promised a further 5.5% from 1/10/00, and another 5.5% from 1/10/01 and a final 4% from 1/10/02. This starkly contrasts with the 3% recently offered by our employers. Existing university staff in the south have a non-contributory pension scheme, so you should reduce our salaries by the 6.35% USS contribution when making the comparison. [Recent appointments in the south have a contributory pension scheme, but for them the published pay scales are increased by 1/19 to compensate.] The scales vary slightly between the institutions, but these are the pay-scales for TCD: Lecturer IR£16,983 to IR£41,953 (15 points); Senior Lecturer IR£37,665 to IR£48,636 (6 points); Associate Professor IR£41,501 to IR£55,485 (6 points); Professor IR£47,855 to IR£61,837 (6 points).
There are as yet no new developments nationally since we rejected the 3% offer. Average salaries at QUB are below the average for comparable UK institutions. The re-introduction of discretionary payments and accelerated increments is seen by management as the solution at Lecturer B and Senior Lecturer level and for academic-related staff. While welcoming the extra money, Belfast AUT has reservations about the criteria and mechanism, and we note that the total sum of money paid is still less than that which was paid in the former across-the board "discretionary" bonus. Also the miserly treatment of Advisors of Studies and other academics holding administrative office below the level of Director of School has greatly under-mined morale and has produced a dearth of people willing to undertake these essential tasks.
At non-clinical professorial level the average salary here in 1999 was £41,815 compared to £45,562 average for the sector. Proposals are in hand to re-assign professors to five salary bands (provisionally £38K to £43K, £44K to £48K, £49K to £53K, £54K to £63K, £64K and up). This could eventually result in average pay rises of about £5K. We will discuss the mechanism of assignment and the other details with our professorial members when the situation becomes clearer. Comparison also shows that QUB has a higher proportion of professors than comparable institutions, so getting a chair may be even more difficult.
Belfast AUT will be involved in the overhaul of the academic promotion procedures and the procedures for accelerated increments and discretionary pay scheduled for next academic year. We were consulted on the minor changes for this promotion round, but consultation does not mean that our views are necessarily accepted. In particular this applies to the new rule that unsuccessful applicants must sit out the next year’s round. The management wanted this so as to reduce the volume of paper and to force a frank discussion between Directors of Schools and applicants. We thought that it was incompatible we self-application and would cause more hassle than it is worth. Anyone with views on this new rule should contact Renee Prendergast.
We have received an analysis of the October 1999 discretionary payment and accelerated increments exercise. There were 294 people on the top of the Lecturer B or Senior Lecturer scales; 18 Lecturer B’s and 32 Senior Lecturers received discretionary payments. 274 academics were still moving up scales and 26 of these got 1 accelerated increment and 13 got 2 increments. Overall 15.7% of relevant staff received some money. The distribution was uneven with Engineering doing well and Science poorly.
Belfast AUT has recently negotiated a formal procedure for translation. This would apply to people whose work is substantially that of a lecturer but who are currently paid on a different scale, such as Research. Such a person could apply for translation of themselves and their post to a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer post. The new procedure has provision for probation but this should not apply in situations where a person’s work has been substantially that of a lecturer for the relevant period. Any one interested should contact an AUT officer.
This is the big problem facing Queen’s. QUB still has a large backlog of long-term maintenance besides all the new or refurbished buildings that we have on our wish lists. The capital element was dropped from funding council grants some years ago, but we often got extra money from DENI for maintenance, especially at the end of their financial year. This is unlikely to continue. We have been allowed to spend on capital works the proceeds of selling off spare buildings, but we are nearly out of buildings to sell. We do get small grants for health and safety, energy efficiency and disabled access works, but these are for specific projects.
At the end of this financial year we will have only £3M in the kitty for the capital and long-term maintenance program. In 2000-1 the university is committed to spending £13M on projects of which £9M is funded from external sources. Projects funded by the University total over £4M of which only £3M is generated in the year. This means that there will be less than £2M left in the kitty by August 2001, while our priority list of projects would still contain £14M of university funded projects. This excludes JIF and NI Research Infrastructure projects which we have bid for and for which we often have to provide matching funds. For these reasons the University is considering increasing the annual top-slice of the QUB budget for capital and long-term maintenance. This can only be at the expense of the day to day activities of the university.
The revised estimates for the current financial year have reduced our forecast deficit for the year to £2M. After adjusting for long-term maintenance and the cost of the Academic Plan the forecast deficit for 2000-1 is £4.7M. To achieve this position the University has assumed an "efficiency gain" (the decline in the real value of the unit of resource) of 5.6%, which is a very considerable belt-tightening. The budgets for the individual areas are now being prepared with 38.95% of distributable income going to academic support.
The above excludes virtually all of the building in the Institutional Strategy (the £210M wish list of buildings and other initiatives announced in March). It also excludes all but the preliminary work on Lanyon II, which is projected to cost £59M. All of these major projects can take place only if there is a specific grant, or if it has a commercial element which would justify raising a loan, or if we can raise the money from benefactors. So our future depends critically on the fund-raising success of our Development Office, and it is too early to gauge this. The £800K work on the Great Hall was started without private donations having been secured, but I understand that the money is nearly in the bag.
Members will remember the widespread dissatisfaction at the way the industrial action in support of the 1999-2000 pay claim was directed by AUT’s Executive Committee and Headquarters. A one-day strike on May 25 last year was followed by a summer of action short of a strike including boycotts of the administration associated with QAA and RAE, and delays in processing examinations and admissions. The strike itself was well supported here in Belfast, but less well supported in some other institutions. Nationally, the action short of a strike was patchy and ineffective. In late summer the action was called off on legal advice as discontinuous action short of a strike was open to successful legal challenge. Probably the biggest source of anger was that THES knew the action had been abandoned before many activists did.
In December 1999, AUT Council established a Commission on Action and Campaigning. Essentially the Commission was charged with bringing forward recommendations for effective action and campaigning in future. The six elected members of the Commission included Paul Hudson. The Commission’s report was received by AUT Council in May 2000. The full report is on AUT’s website at <http://www.aut.org.uk/files/circulars/la6800.txt.> The following is a summary of the key recommendations:
· Campaigns need the support of the membership is there are to succeed. Decisions on industrial action should be informed by the views of all members. There should be wide use of electronic means of communication to seek views before key decisions are taken.
· There needs to be a wider political campaign to win support for the restoration of pay levels and the necessary funding.
· Publicity work must address the public image of HE staff. National advertising, however, is not cost effective.
· AUT should press, through the TUC, for amendments to existing legislation on industrial action. At present, the organisation of action short of a strike imposes immense legal and practical difficulties for a union. In these circumstances, full strike action is the only form of industrial action that is feasible.
· AUT should seek to involve other unions in joint action, but should plan on the basis of taking action alone.
· Record keeping in Local Associations and nationally will be improved to facilitate balloting.
· National industrial action should involve all members as far as possible. This is particularly important as the link between academic and academic-related is under threat.
· It is Executive’s role to oversee the conduct of a dispute. Executive members should give priority to the dispute and give support to Local Associations. Regional committees and LA activists should be used to give practical support, advice and feedback to the Executive during a dispute, together with assessments from regional officials and visiting Executive members.
· There should be a ballot of members before a dispute is called off on an offer accepted. However, AUT Executive should have authority to suspend industrial action during a dispute.
The Annual General Meeting of Belfast AUT will take place on 28th June at 1.05 p.m. in room W100, Lanyon North. The meeting will be addressed by the National President, Alan Carr. We will also hear reports from the outgoing Officers and elect the bulk of the AUT Committee. (The rest are elected by constituency elections in at Christmas.) I therefore invite nomination for the following positions:
The Honorary Secretary
The Secretary for Local Issues
The Assistant Honorary Secretary
The Honorary Treasurer
The Membership Secretary
4 General Members
All the present incumbents are eligible for re-election, although the President normally serves for two years only. The duties of the various offices are laid down in the rules, and, if you are interested, you can discuss what is really involved with me.
Nominations shall be made with the written consent of the nominee either by the Committee or by any two members of the Local Association. They should be sent to me by 4 p.m. on Wednesday 14th June.
Paul Hudson, Honorary Secretary