Secretaries with little more than good typing and word-processing skills command higher salaries than the average further education lecturer, a TES survey has revealed.
A leading London recruitment agency found that legal secretaries are in such demand that a secretary with experience of typing affidavits can earn Pounds 30,000 a year for an extra 20 to 25 hours a month.
Starting salaries for secretaries with a year's experience average around Pounds 19,000 a year in London. A 16-year-old who spends up to three years learning the trade can at 19 earn more than a lecturer who - after completing a degree and perhaps a postgraduate certificate in education - will be at least 22.
A detailed study looking at all the leading newspapers and free press used by secretarial agencies in London, the Midlands and West Yorkshire was carried out over a six-week period.
Pay rates, including perks and bonuses, were compared with lecturers' rates in jobs advertised in The TES and with the nationally-published pay scales and likely rates offered by the new agencies for lecturers.
The pay scale for lecturers starts at just over Pounds 12,000 a year with perhaps a little more if the post is in London.
While London-based secretaries who are willing to work overtime are handsomely rewarded, lecturers in London or elsewhere have to accept that overtime comes with the job.
In the free secretarial magazines - seen as the main job route - distributed every Monday in London, part-time receptionist posts were found which offered between Pounds 11,250 and Pounds 12,000 a year, plus a "loyalty bonus" in one case.
No qualifications were needed other than previous reception experience although one advert specified candidates should be "immaculately presented". In London an unskilled receptionist with no qualifications can work part-time and earn almost the same as a newly-appointed lecturer with a degree and PGCE, working more than double the hours.
The difference in pay for secretaries working in London and those in the regions is immense. For example, a legal secretary's post advertised in Leeds offered a salary of Pounds 13,000. Equivalent posts in the City of London offer salaries of around Pounds 19,000 to Pounds 20,000 with in most cases additional benefits. In stark contrast, the lecturer pay scale is more or less the same countrywide, with only a very modest allowance being paid if you live in or around London.
Even allowing for geographical differences, a similar analysis of adverts for secretaries based in the North, reveals that a secretary armed only with an RSA level 3 can start on Pounds 11,874, just below a lecturer's starting salary.
The rule of a pay-off in later life for "deferred gratification" applies to solicitors and accountants but not to FE lecturers. They start off their careers on comparatively low salaries and finish off the same way, with many getting stuck at the top of the pay scale on Pounds 24,000.
Adverts for secretaries suggest that their employers practise what is preached in education. The emphasis in education on learning outcomes "what learners know, understand or can do as a result of their learning experience" and on skills "core, key or transferable" is well-demonstrated in secretarial adverts with few asking for specific qualifications. Knowledge and skills seem to be of greater relevance.
In FE, however, the traditional recruitment route is still followed with postgraduate qualifications. In the classified pages of The TES there is an increasing trend for the Training Development Lead Body awards to be stated as a requirement on top of first degrees.
Last year it was reported that "an increasingly well-educated population is forcing professionals to take lower fees". Articles made specific reference to accountants and solicitors who are also experiencing a decline in earnings.
Lecturers have always been the poor relations in pay terms compared with solicitors and accountants. If their earnings are falling it does not bode well for education professionals. A recent Financial Times comment said "low pay is endemic in higher education". Low pay is endemic throughout further education as well.
Sue Berryman, national negotiating secretary for the lecturers' union NATFHE, said: "We are not surprised at the survey results, they tally with those of our survey last year."
The TUC trade union research unit also carried out a study and found that depressed levels in colleges were used to reduce salaries in other professional groups.
"They found it inconceivable that a with such complex demands made on them could be stuck on a high of Pounds 24,500 or on Pounds 30,000 for those on the management pay spine," she said.