STAFF costs at Western Australia's public universities have risen significantly as the institutions seek to deal with rising students numbers and improve their reputations at home and overseas. As the waning resources boom pricked the skills-shortage bubble and pushed more students into the waiting arms of tertiary educators, the cost of staff has risen as much as 15 per cent in the year ending December 31 in the case of Curtin University of Technology. Edith Cowan University's employee-related expenses rose about 8.5 per cent, University of WA was up about 8 per cent, and Murdoch University 6 per cent. The salaries of the universities' leaders have continued to rise in quantum, though percentage wise they have slowed. Murdoch vice-chancellor John Yovich maintained the highest remuneration among the state's public universities, with a package amounting to $798,000, up from $746,000 in calendar 2007. Mr Yovich was followed by UWA's Alan Robson on $635,000, Curtin's Jeanette Hacket on $505,000, and ECU's Kerry Cox at $485,000. The rise in employment expenses generally was faster than university staff headcounts, reflecting a growing bidding war among universities that are seeking talent to attract top students and improve their standings in global league tables, which influence the lucrative foreign student market. UWA remains the biggest employer in the sector with 3,222 full-time equivalent staff members, up 4 per cent in 2008, closely followed by Curtin at 3,195, up 6.5 per cent. Gerard Daniels consultant Alison Gaines, who heads the executive search firm's board consulting practice, believes universities have fallen behind on salaries and are seeking to redress the situation in the face of global competition for talent. "The sector will be playing catch up with remuneration," said Ms Gaines, a former Murdoch senate member who stepped down after nine years. "They have to be much more focused on being more competitive internationally." However, Ms Gaines said that with perceptions of more continuity in employment and better working conditions, universities had some advantages in the current economic climate in attracting practitioners into academia. That includes the flexibility of being able to work outside teaching and research. "If you do good consulting in the thought leadership area you can enhance the reputation of the university," Ms Gaines said.
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