Thursday, 6 February 2014

University pay: why the bosses are confident

Today we are on strike. Some union members have suggested we should do something active rather than just stay away and not work. As an arthritic retired academic I remember the social media  and decided to do this instead.

I think the bosses have a reason to be confident about keeping academic pay so low. When I worked on labour markets in the 1980s there was this idea about the "dual labour market2. I have heard less about it recently but I think academe is increasingly one of these. There is a shrinking "core group" of workers and a growing penumbra or reserve army around it.

Why are university chiefs not more worried about being able to recruit top people at a time when global competitiveness is stronger than ever? I think the solution they have found is simple. There is something called the "labour market adjustment" that allows people they want a lot (including managers) to be paid more or less anything. Need to recruit a top economist? OK, you can offer a competitive wage. But the poor bloody infantry of people to teach English or social sciences, it seems, will do it for far less.

Most academic jobs are done for a "component wage", that is, a wage that will not support a family on its own. Someone asked me the other day "Why are all our students (of social epidemiology) women"? This is because a discipline that focuses on preventing disease as opposed to treating it does simply not pay enough to live on, certainly not in London. Another colleague pointed out that most of her colleagues who had already had children were married to bankers, that is the only way they could do it.

So lets not be too hopeful that university staff will soon be paid a wage that reflects their training.