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Ten years on from Dearing and the same problems blight higher education

25 July 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

A decade after the groundbreaking Dearing report on higher education the same problems originally highlighted in the report have not been resolved, said Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, today.

Speaking ahead of a conference 'The Dearing Report: Ten years on', Sally Hunt said that the low levels of staff pay that the Dearing report identified had still not been settled and the risks to national pay bargaining remained a constant threat.

Sally Hunt said: "There is little doubt that the Dearing report in 1997 dramatically changed higher education forever. The controversial decision to recommend that students pay for their tuition paved the way for top-up fees and the marketisation of higher education that universities, staff, students and their parents now have to deal with.

"Dearing correctly identified the future health of higher education as being entirely dependent on its staff. Ten years on and the incredible work being done by staff in our universities is still not being properly rewarded. The worries highlighted about recruiting and retaining the very best staff are an even greater concern now than they were a decade ago. If we are to maintain our proud international reputation as a global leader in higher education we must urgently invest in our staff.

"There have been advances in staff pay, thanks largely to the Framework Agreement that the unions fought hard for and the recent pay settlement. However, much more needs to be done. The threat to national pay bargaining that was cited in the original report remains a constant threat. An end to national bargaining is in no one's interests and I hope that we will meet with the employers soon to put this one to bed once and for all.

"The Dearing report also correctly identified the importance of higher education in a wider societal context. The worrying marketisation of higher education through the introduction of fees and higher student to staff ratios is in danger or eroding the very purpose of what university is for. Universities where staff have the right to challenge orthodoxies without penalty and where students are taught to critically analyse rather than simply prepared for the job market are the bedrock of a democratic society."


Paragraph 69 of the Dearing report said:
'The health of higher education depends entirely on its staff, whether academic, professional or administrative. There is concern among staff that they have received neither the recognition, opportunities for personal development, nor the rewards which their contribution over the last decade merits.'

Paragraph 71 of the original report said:
'In this era of continuing change the rewards offered must be sufficient to recruit, retain and motivate staff of the required quality. Recent evidence suggests that the majority, but by no means all, of staff in higher education are paid substantially below comparable private and public sector rates. On the other hand, there is evidence of an increase in the ratio of senior lecturer to lecturer posts, which may have offset a relative decline in academic salary levels.

'There is, however, growing concern about the present arrangements for determining pay and conditions of service. Central pay bargaining is under strain, as many institutions feel the need to take decisions in relation to their own circumstances rather than collectively. Others argue for maintaining national bargaining, a statutory pay review body or a standing review body.'