John Patten has written to Sir Patrick Lowry, the independent chairman of the body which negotiates pay between vice-chancellors and lecturers, to say that 'no useful purpose at all would be served by such a meeting'.
In return, Sir Patrick has challenged the Government's view that the proposed pay settlement would be against the wider public interest of controlling expenditure. Why, he asks, has the Government approved an increase of 6.5 per cent for policemen and women, yet vetoed an increase costing 5.75 per cent for university lecturers?
Last month, the Government refused to accept a pay deal agreed by the universities and lecturers - a 6 per cent increase from 1 May 1992, plus 1 per cent of the pay deal from 1 January 1993 for discretionary pay. This led to a furious reaction from vice-chancellors, who demanded to know who managed the universities. The Government also ruled out arbitration.
Mr Patten has told Sir Patrick: 'The Government considers that the proposals . . . conflict with the wider public interest of moderating the level of pay settlements and are beyond what can be afforded given the Government's determination to control public expenditure.' He has asked the negotiators to reconvene to reach a new settlement.
The vice-chancellors and lecturers are considering whether to seek a judicial review of the Government's decision. Sir Patrick makes it clear in his response to Mr Patten that he thinks the Government is on shaky ground if it relies on previous legislation to veto an agreement between employers and lecturers.
John Akker, deputy general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: 'There is immense anger at what the Government has done, and how it has done it. They made the announcement to stop our increase on the day that Parliament went into recess for the longest period in recent times. Our members feel that the Government has cynically moved against the universities.'