In a paper presented last week at the Scottish Educational Research Association’s annual conference in Stirling, John Field, professor of lifelong learning at the University of Stirling, says that between 55 and 65 per cent of Scottish universities’ expenditure is on staff costs.
Universities tend to reduce staff numbers when they need to cut costs, but Professor Field argues that there are other options, highlighting the public sector pay freeze in Scotland announced in last month’s Budget.
“As autonomous institutions, universities are not likely to be tied to this policy, but there is a case for considering a voluntary commitment to the principle,” says the paper, titled “Higher education and the recession: the early impact in Scotland”.
It adds that “academic salaries are generally well above the average incomes of individual workers in Scotland”.
In the 2008-09 financial year, Professor Field writes, Scottish universities employed more than 400 people who were paid in excess of £100,000 a year and 250 who earned more than the chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council.
“These figures suggest that a managed package of wage freezes at the middle and lower levels, combined with reductions at [the] top level, might have signification reputational as well as financial advantages,” the paper says.
Professor Field argues that alternative routes to finding savings of as much as 25 per cent would produce “unpalatable political consequences, as well as undermining competitiveness”.
“My own view is that we cannot expect sustainable long-term solutions without re-examining the nature of the social contract between universities and civil society,” he writes. “Higher education has many freedoms, but it also has responsibilities.”