Lecturers threaten chaos in exams

UNIVERSITY LECTURERS voted to strike for a 10 per cent pay rise yesterday. The Association of University Teachers (AUT) threatened to disrupt exams and university admissions this summer as part an escalating campaign of industrial action.

The 42,000-strong union, which represents academics in universities, will launch its campaign with a one-day stoppage later this month.

The academics plan to boycott admissions for four days at the height of the annual scramble for university places in August. A similar four- day boycott of exams is scheduled for June.

Yesterday, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which represents new universities' staff, pledged to join the action if vice-chancellors did not improve their 3.5 per cent offer.

Academics want a 10 per cent rise as a "down payment" on their moves to close a 30 per cent pay gap they say has arisen between lecturers and other professionals.

Chris Banister, the AUT president, told delegates meeting in Scarborough that academics were "systematically undervalued". He said: "They may continue trying to exploit us because they know our professionalism means we will want to continue delivering the quality higher education that we have. Now is the time for us to say firmly, enough is enough."

A ballot of the union's members produced a 58 per cent vote in favour of strikes and nearly 70 per cent in favour of other industrial action.

David Triesman, the AUT's general secretary, said academics were reluctant to harm students but had "crossed the Rubicon". He said staff would not damage students' long-term prospects but promised a bitter year of disruption if this summer's action did not bring results.

Starting salaries for full-time lecturers, usually with a doctorate and several years of research experience, are about pounds 17,000 but research staff can be paid as little as pounds 10,000. Starting salaries for professors are pounds 35,000.

Mr Triesman said the 18-month inquiry into university pay, due to report later this year, would "give us all the ammunition we need". The Independent revealed last week that the report would recommend substantial rises for professors and the lowest paid academics but would only propose small increases in pay for mainstream lecturing staff.

t Members of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education also said yesterday they would call an official strike ballot unless they received an offer of more than 3.5 per cent. A survey of members showed overwhelming support for a strike over pay.

A union spokesman, Tom Wilson, said unless there was a better offer, universities would face "a wave of action", including witholding exam marks and refusing to invigilate. However, he said members "would have to think for a long time" before agreeing to disrupt admissions.