Lecturers in pay dispute warned of major job cuts

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The Independent Online

More than 600 lecturers have been warned that their pay will be stopped from next week as the dispute over academics' pay intensified yesterday.

The ultimatum, from Northumbria University, prompted threats of strike action from lecturers as the deadline for salvaging degrees for up to 350,000 students this summer nears.

Northumbria delivered a warning it would stop paying any lecturer who either refused to set or mark exams - becoming one of 30 universities threatening to dock pay. It is the only one threatening to deduct 100 per cent of salaries.

Natfhe, one of two unions involved, responded by warning it would start indefinite strike action - beginning next Tuesday - if the deductions were made.

Yesterday the two sides were summoned before the Commons Education Select Committee to explain their stance. Almost the only thing the two were agreed on was that - within the next fortnight - it may be too late to settle the dispute for this summer's examinations with the result that thousands of students may be unable to graduate.

University employers, who branded the unions' actions "extreme", warned there would have to be redundancies among lecturing staff if there was any improvement on the 12.6 per cent pay offer they had made last week. The unions are demanding 23 per cent.

The two unions involved in the dispute - Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) - are both taking action targeted at exams. The AUT is urging its members to refuse to set or mark them - while Natfhe is telling its to refuse to pass the marks on.Steve Wharton, the union's president, from Bath University, said academics' pay had suffered - the average salary was around £35,000. "It is only after 16 years in the profession that I can afford to buy even a flat in the city where I live," he said.

The unions argue that income from top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year - which come in from September - will enable the universities to afford a bigger pay offer.

University employers have called a meeting of vice-chancellors on Friday to decide their next move. The unions are hoping this meeting will produce a fresh mandate to improve the pay offer.