A boycott of PRP launched last month by staff at Coventry University spread this week to the University of Westminster, the seventh institution to be affected since details were circulated to all new universities by Natfhe, the university and college lecturers' union. Staff at Coventry agreed to pool any payments they received for performance and to redistribute the money equally among themselves. Similar agreements have been forged at the University of Central England and Sheffield Hallam, De Montfort, London Guildhall and Greenwich universities. The move is being considered by staff elsewhere.
A campaign of disruption was triggered at Westminster University on Monday when the university's court decided to proceed with a scheme for distributing PRP that was opposed by the vast majority of staff. Under the scheme, faculty panels comprising heads of department and principal lecturers would judge candidates nominated by a colleague for one-off payments of pounds 2,500 available to one in 10 staff. As a concession, the scheme was opened up to self-nominations.
Lecturers in every school have set up pools and signed agreements saying that they will not sit on panels and will nominate each other for performance pay to congest the system. Posters pinned up in corridors and staffrooms across the university catch the mood of buoyant defiance. 'Come and win in the Natfhe pool]' they shout, ' pounds 130,000 to be won. Everyone's a winner]'.
Jill Jones, branch secretary for Natfhe, to which 80 per cent of the lecturers belong, said: 'Support for the pools is very strong: even in the management school - not traditionally known for their militancy - 45 out of 58 staff have signed the agreement. We're appalled at the scheme they've come up with: it will corrupt the appraisal process and will demotivate people. We asked them to find a way of spending the money to reward teaching in promotions and fund research sabbaticals.'
In other universities, academics have succeeded in persuading employers to use the 0.75 per cent of last year's 4.65 per cent pay rise for lecturers in the new universities that was set aside for performance-related pay for other purposes. Details of PRP schemes collated by Natfhe show that only half of universities have kept to guidelines issued by the Polytechnics and Colleges Employers' Forum (PCEF) and used the money to make one-off cash payments for good performance. The rest are using the money in a range of other ways, such as funding allowances for staff who take on extra responsibilities; staff research sabbaticals; extra opportunities for staff development and temporary promotions.
Some are operating mixed schemes: Oxford Brookes University is funding 100 pounds 500 staff development credits as well as a number of temporary promotions. Brian Roper, the university's deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs, said: 'This is a way of diverting funds towards scholarship. The pounds 500 lump sum is paying for people to attend conferences or go out into industry. The temporary upgradings to principal lectureship will give people a chance to try out a leadership role and build up to an application for permanent advancement.'
After four years, discretionary pay has still won little acceptance in the old universities. A boycott of discretionary payments launched by 35 professors at Cambridge University in 1989 continues - although the number of abstainers has declined to 21 - and at both Oxford and Cambridge payment by merit is widely perceived as a threat to collegiate traditions.
Joanna Innes, a member of Oxford's general board, said: 'The requirement to spend a percentage of recent salary settlements selectively runs completely against the grain of Oxford culture. We have a very, very flat career pattern.'
David Livesey, secretary-general of Cambridge University, is sceptical of the view that flexibility is needed to offer salaries that would attract academics of international standing. He points to the ratcheting effect that the poaching of leading academics with cash incentives has on the salary bill in American universities. 'The concerns expressed by recipients of jobs here are as much about the facilities as about the pay,' he said.
And there is concern that many schemes set up to distribute the 1 per cent of salary bill set aside for motivating staff in the old universities contravene the Sex Discrimination Act, by excluding certain categories of staff.
Vice-chancellors have responded to dissatisfaction with 1 per cent schemes by asking a committee chaired by Professor Brian Fender, vice-chancellor of Keele Unversity, to look into what motivates academics and to make recommendations on the future of discretionary pay.
Aside from dissatisfaction at a steady decline in basic pay relative to other professions and the growing proportion of staff on short-term contracts, there is evidence to suggest that academics may be hostile to performance pay because it is incompatible with their motivations.
Three surveys spanning the period from the late Sixties to the present, conducted by Professor A H Halsey of the Nuffield Foundation, consistently found academics to be motivated primarily by research, secondly by teaching and thirdly by the opportunities for interacting with people and seeing students develop. Financial reward came further down the list. An Institute of Manpower Studies survey for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) confirmed and clarified these findings. For most academics, freedom to research and teach according to their interests was the primary motivation.
Professor Fender's report, now being discussed by universities, recommends that performance pay should be devolved to institutions to use as they see fit. He says rewards for individual performance should be retained and clarified and that new mechanisms should be developed for rewarding the performance of teams.
With this year's PRP exercise still to come, Peter Knight, chairman of the PCEF, is inclining in this direction. 'I would welcome it being left to the individual university to decide how the pay system recognises performance,' he said.
The unions, however, vehemently oppose any move towards local determination of pay. The AUT says of Professor Fender's submission: 'The report could not be clearer that no study has found any link between performance-related pay and actual performance. Yet the report meekly suggests that individual schemes should continue and new group schemes should also be developed. Having identified the drain, even more money is to be poured down it.'