Performance-pay scheme gets go-ahead

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 March, 2009, 12:00am

Controversial plans to introduce performance pay for academic staff at City University have been given the go-ahead by its ruling council despite union objections.

The council approved the performance-related pay review scheme on Thursday night as a row between CityU's management and staff association over how it should operate descended into a war of words.

University managers have also agreed to a general pay increase from January 2011 for all staff who reach a satisfactory level of performance under the scheme - subject to the 'financial health' of the university at the time.

The mechanism, which is due to begin on July 1, will make all pay increases and allowances for academic staff of assistant professor rank and above contingent upon annual reviews of individual performance.

Academics will be assessed across three criteria: teaching, research, and professional activities and services, under a weighted formula drawn up in a working group led by CityU finance director Gabriel Chan Sai-man.

Departments will draw up their own assessment criteria and standards in consultation with staff against benchmarks in the field to decide how academics will progress up the university's pay scale.

Appraisals and pay recommendations will be drawn up by departmental performance assessment committees made up of senior academics of full professor grade or above, and go through a three-tier approval system.

The departmental committee's decision has to be endorsed by faculty deans or line managers and approved by the central committee. In the event of a disagreement, the central committee will rule.

The weighted formula may be waived for assistant professors on their first contract at CityU, subject to departmental approval but any other deviations from the formula must be approved by a central committee that will oversee the scheme.

Mr Chan said: 'The objective is to raise the standard of the university, to provide a better service for the community and allocate resources in a more accountable and effective manner.

'The standards have to be high but realistic. That is why we have these three levels of assessment so that the decision reflects both the standards set within the department and the wider aspirations of the university.

'CityU has identified six external benchmarks - prestigious global institutions of higher education that we believe we can learn from at an institutional level.

'Disciplines and departments are encouraged to engage in debate and identify similar benchmarks which they consider appropriate for their level of expertise.'

The three-tier process provided a built-in appeal mechanism for staff and the central committee would conduct annual reviews at the end of each performance-evaluation cycle and perform audit checks on a random basis, he added.

The City University Staff Association responded by releasing a survey that found 92 per cent of staff thought the scheme was 'unacceptable' and 83.7 per cent did not think they would be fairly and accurately assessed.

Mr Chan hit back, issuing an e-mail to all staff, denouncing the survey results as 'grossly unreliable' and 'totally misleading' as it was based on anonymous replies from only 228 staff out of 4,500.

John Tse Wing-ling, chairman of the staff association, retorted that the consultation period was far too short and management should be listening to staff submissions instead of attacking them.

'However, we are glad to note that recent clarifications from management are beginning to address some of the issues,' he said.

'We accept this performance-pay review in principal but we think there are some loopholes that still need to be sorted out. And if the review is to work, management will have to develop a more open and trusting relationship with staff.'

The union also demanded an appeals mechanism and the inclusion of assistant professors in the departmental committees.

A university spokeswoman said the scheme was backed by a 100-strong CityU senate on Wednesday, which includes all vice-presidents, deans and heads of departments.