The Independent has learned that an independent inquiry, chaired by a senior civil servant, will recommend the largest rises for researchers at the bottom of the academic ladder, to reflect their status as the potential world-class academics of tomorrow.
A report on university pay, due to be published later this month, will argue that professors should get a 30 per cent rise, coming into effect by 2002.
But the report is thought not to recommend such substantial pay rises for rank-and-file university lecturers and senior lecturers, who are currently voting on industrial action in support of a 10 per cent pay rise.
The 18-month inquiry, chaired by Sir Michael Bett, will call for a dramatic reduction in the use of short-term contracts for researchers, arguing that "significantly more staff should be offered permanent - ie. open- ended - contracts."
It will also call for action to eliminate stark differences in the pay of men and women at universities, and will recommend a reform of academic pay scales to open up opportunities for promotion.
Research carried out for the inquiry found that 93 per cent of all researchers are on short-term contracts, some lasting as little as a few months. In the "new" universities, 38 per cent of academic staff are paid by the hour.
Research jobs are traditionally the proving ground for young postgraduates, and academics fear that low pay and job insecurity is forcing promising PhD students to leave UK universities for industry or well-funded research posts overseas.
Peter Cotgreave, director of the academic pressure group Save British Science, said: "There is no question in my mind that there is a brain drain. People might have a PhD and a couple of post-doctorate years and then go to the US, but don't come back. They don't appear on the figures because they never had a proper job here."
Starting salaries for full-time lecturers - usually with a doctorate and several years of post-doctoral research - are about pounds 17,000, the same as for new school teachers. Research staff can be paid as little as pounds 10,000. Starting salaries for professors are pounds 35,000.Reuse content