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Fury as IfL squirrels away £2m in reserves

FE news | Published in TES Newspaper on 11 March, 2011 | By: Joseph Lee

Critics warn stockpiled funds could be used to survive fees boycott

The Institute for Learning (IfL) has built up reserves of over £2 million which could be used to help it withstand a boycott by lecturers angry over the doubling of membership fees, its accounts show.

The institute says fees have to increase to £68 from £30 a year to account for the extra cost of collecting cash from members instead of receiving a block Government grant.

But its financial returns show that last year it made a surplus of nearly £500,000, bringing its reserves to £2 million, with expenditure at £5.6 million.

FE minister John Hayes said he was unable to prevent the IfL, which every teacher at a publicly funded college or training provider must join by law, from setting fees at whatever level it chose.

IfL accounts say it is deliberately building up reserves and aims to have six months of expenditure banked by 2012. Its reserves have grown more quickly than expected, however, exceeding the objective of four months’ expenditure in the bank a year earlier than forecast, in March last year.

The decision to raise fees provoked outrage from many lecturers who believe they receive few benefits from the institute: 15,000 have now signed the University and College Union petition in protest, and the union has warned that it will consider a boycott.

Lecturer Martin Ellison, on a Facebook group opposed to the fees increase, warned that the cash reserves may be a weapon in the battle with members. He said: “Even if no one pays it will take some time before the IfL has to start thinking about its future, and the directors have to face up to their legal duties in terms of solvency.”

IfL’s member surveys say the majority of members value its benefits. Despite its cash reserves, the institute says it needs the fee increase to improve its services, with printed professional journals and more events and conferences.

It also says that the increase will help it fund an increased number of professional standards cases, and a sharp increase in the numbers gaining the professional qualifications it awards when they become compulsory for new teachers next year.

The IfL said its board approved the level of reserves and added it was obliged to maintain a general fund to ensure it could cope with sudden falls in income or increases in costs.

Chair Sue Crowley said: “IfL must become self-funded, and is determined the fees charged should be fair and kept to the lowest level needed to deliver the services, benefits and support members rightly expect from their professional body.”

Mr Hayes, speaking for the first time about the dispute, said he was prepared to meet the IfL to raise lecturers’ concerns, but added the level of fees was not a matter for ministers.

“An independent organisation has to come to a judgment as to the fees that it charges. IfL made it very clear to me that they had consulted widely among stakeholders,” he said.

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Comment (28)

  • If John Hayes is prepared to meet the IfL to discuss lecturer's concerns then he should also agree to meet some of those opposed to compulsory membership to hear their views in person.

    The IfL uses its favourite word 'stakeholders'. For this read lots of other organisations (mostly on its own Advisory Council). What about consulting widely with its members instead of ignoring all of their legitimate questions and requests for information.

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    11 March, 2011


  • I have been a member now for three years and am yet to really feel any benefit. Teachers are capable of arranging their own idea sharing forums online. So why exactly are we paying £30.00 extra? The IfL hasn't achieved getting the status of FE/HE Tutors on par with that of School teachers so I cannot see any substantial benefits that warrant such an increase.

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    11 March, 2011


  • I believe that compulsory membership of the Institute for Learning is a contravention of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I believe that my human right to belong to an association or not to belong to an association without threats to my employment has been infringed by the statutory instruments used by IFL to justify compulsory membership.

    I would urge all members to contact the advisory board at IFL and make it clear that threats to employment based on a compulsory membership fee to a professional body are likely to be considered as a violation of a fundamental human right and therefore unlawful/unenforceable.

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    11 March, 2011


  • I think it is clear that the IFL have planned for this situation to try and put us down (how very LibLabCon).
    Its also nice to know that they are so well off when colleges are struggling financially and lecturers are seeing their saleries in reality drop.
    The IFL are what they have always been; a government gravey train with 'jobs for the boys'.
    They have no write or business telling us what to do.

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    11 March, 2011


  • V#The way that IFL has responded to its critics, who are by the by, members of IFL, says it all. They are not democratic and have seen an opportunity to make a lot of money out of lecturers. We were forced to join this body, it has not improved the sector or done anything to halt the worrying trend of un/ underqualified members of staff joining teams or being given more and more teaching duties that had been the reserves of qualified staff. Our un/underqualified counterparts are, in fact, members of IFL, in fact!
    Funny enough, I think that if IFL had just kept their fees the same, they probably wouldn't have had a problem but it felt mean spirited and corrupt to more than double the fees in this, the era of austerity, when all of us are being impacted by redundancies. Perhaps the IFL needs to make some cuts too, like everyone else.

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    11 March, 2011


  • I actually agree with the previous and current government's drive to make the IfL a self funding organisation, and to operate as a business. But any business and self funding organisation should only receive funds from willing members, members that have chosen to become a member because they see the benefits of doing so. I would love to put on my CV that I am a member of such a trade organisation that I have chosen to join, but I would only chose to join such an organisation if I was shown the benefits of joining. However at present all I am seeing is a great big stick, threatening me with expulsion from a profession I have literally given blood, sweat and tears for if I don't join. I am not seeing any carrot or incentive to join due to benefits or 'perks' being offered for me joining the IfL.

    The analogy I can think of is that when I renew my road-side car cover, I know what I am getting for the money, they offer me discounts on things, free things, and a piece of mind to know that they will be there when I call, but with the IfL all I get is a letter threatening me if I don't do enforced CPD, or if I should heaven forbid no longer want to be in their club they will stop me from being able to work at all. Not even the AA threatens to take my licence away if I don't want to be a member any more.

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    11 March, 2011


  • The fee to lecturers was never £ 30. The fee was paid by government on their behalf.
    Many members have always had a visceral loathing for the IfL and its intrusive demands for evidence of CPD; they did not gain anything at all from their membership. But as they paid nothing in order to receive nothing, they were prepared to let it ride rather than risk losing their jobs. That's how IfL was able to bloat itself out with government money.

    How much did its officers pay themselves before banking a vast surplus? I think we should be told, since in future they expect us to produce the money for both the salaries and, presumably, the surplus.

    The IfL's claim that the majority of its members are happy with its services is farcical. It has 195,000 enforced members; about 8,000 responded to the questionnaire. Would any other organisation base its self-image on that rate of response?

    Until the monstrous £ 68 demand came in, most of IfL's serfs simply binned or deleted its useless and self-congratulatory mailings. They have woken up now and are on the look-out for IfL's gross distortions of the truth.

    No mulstiple of £ 0 produces £ 68. Therefore the increase in costs to IfL members for the nothing they receive is de fact infinite.

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    11 March, 2011


  • John Hayes asking that compulsory membership of the IfL for FE teachers be scrapped. His words: “if the IfL are as good as they say they are, people will join voluntary if the membership fee is worth the benefits.”

    Which is how this should be done. How else will a company improve itself to prove it is worth joining. This is the nature of capitalism and we are after all a capitalist democracy not a socialist dictatorship which uses coercion and/ or menaces and fear of losing your right to teach if you do not join. Most member organisations have benefits built in. UCU has legal aid cover, Artists Newsletter has 5 million insurance liability cover for practicing artists as well as other benefits. This is how companies convince people to join them. You would join a club if you weren't getting any benefits as part of the package. It's like getting a subscription for a magazine but never getting the magazine because the money is collected just to keep others in jobs... like tax really. This should be completely voluntary... how else are we to ensure IfL keep improving and giving benefits as part of the package, not just links to other sites and only getting a percentage off? This is not what I call benefits of being a member. By not having to worry about having to prove oneself they don't have to worry about not receiving an income... imagine if jobs were like this.

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    11 March, 2011


  • I would like to know exactly what the £68 is being spent on, as I cannot see what the benefit of me being a member is!
    Since becoming a member of IfL (not through choice by the way, because my employer paid for the membership) I have never, ever needed to contact them about anything. The only contact I have with them like most people is the rather unnecessary recording of my CPD (which by the way my college records anyway and my EV checks each year - for FREE). I cannot see that I will ever need to contact them in the future about anything - they are completely unnecessary!
    One of my views on their membership increase is to help fund their impressive staff benefits package which can be viewed on the website - which includes free private health care and life assurance. I can only dream that my employer offers me these in the future! I have noted that they have conveniently removed the benefit of "free tea/coffee and daily fresh fruit for all staff" that they had included on there, approx 3 weeks ago. Maybe they thought this was a step too far for us teachers who struggle to even grab a 10 minute lunch break whilst drinking the cold tea/coffee that we bought and made ourselves at 8.30 that morning!
    I have contacted both Ed Balls (my local MP), John Hayes and the IfL Chairman either by letter or email to express my views on the points I have made and I am still awaiting a reply by all 3, almost 3 weeks later!!!
    The IfL need to justify their existence and I believe that by continually ignoring their "members" concerns they cannot justify little bit!

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    11 March, 2011


  • <You would join a club if you weren't getting any benefits as part of the package.> - sorry this should be ' You wouldn't join a club if you weren't getting any benefits as part of the package.'

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    11 March, 2011


  • The IfL is a product of what Professor Alison Wolf's report rightly identified as 'agency fever' - the enthusiasm of successive governments to facilitate the creation of a multiplicity of agencies within education. Since its inception, the IfL's main focus has been upon justifying its existence. Away from its self-promotion agenda it does very little for its 200,000 conscripted 'members'. While it is true that Government cannot abolish this private limited company that is, therefore, exempt from the provisions of UK freedom of information legislation, there is a simple measure that Government can undertake. Repealing the clauses in Statutory Instruments 2007/2116 and 2007/2264 that make IfL registration/membership compulsory would, at a stroke, turn it into a body that would have to recruit and retain membership, rather than relying on the State to act as its recruiting sergeant.

    If the IfL really believes its own message, it should surely have nothing to fear from becoming a voluntary-membership body.

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    11 March, 2011


  • Bob Hayes (above) has identified what the problem really is. They are nothing more than intimidating bullies hiding under the skirts of the state, occasionally sallying forth to issue their livelihood threatening demands.
    Did they practice as children in the playground by taking dinner money off the more vulnerable?
    Like all bullies they need challenging, exposure to the sweet fresh air of openness, and the transparency that becoming a voluntary membership body would bring.
    Reading their accounts reminds me of a twisted soul to whom a friend of mine found herself married. He too squirreled money away without telling her, and without giving her anything for housekeeping. Like them he built up huge "reserves" and as with us, the relationship was permanently fractured - I'm pleased to report. Folks, this was, and is, our money.

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    12 March, 2011


  • I can only echo the sentiments of the other angry and frustrated lecturers who have responded here, on FACEBOOK, and the myriad other places that this issue is being discussed. At this point it seems that putting pressure on the IFL via our MPs is the only viable option for affecting real change. Surely an organisation that is neither wanted by its membership nor beneficial to the government can be brought down by concerted effort. The £2M surplus indicates that the IFL is planning to dig in its heels and preparing for a fight. Let's give them one.

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    12 March, 2011


  • Some facts:

    All organisations have reserves.

    3 - 6 months reserves are conservative, not excessive.

    The IfL has achieved parity of professional status with school teaching through the recognition of QTLS. Unions do not want IfL to trespass on their work on terms and conditions - though IfL achieved more on parity in three years than unions have in a lifetime.

    The alternative to IfL is regulation directly by the state as has happened in schools. School teachers rejoiced the loss of the GTC but did not think about the consequences which now include the deprofessionalisation of the sector and many many hundreds of job losses through Gove determining who is fit to practice..

    All I have received from the IfL is the first letter informing me of the introduction of fees and a second letter asking me to renew my membership. I have not seen the letters that people regularly complain about, largely because they do not exist.

    The fee was £30 and was paid by members before government agreed to fund membership and by, I understand, thousands of members who are not covered by the regulations.

    There is no enforced recording of CPD, we are free to record our CPD in whatever way we choose. I do not want my employer determining what I have to do to improve my professional practice - I see myself as a professional, not a 'worker'.

    UCU are basing its stance on the 900 or so members who replied to it's IfL survey. 900 out of the 50,000 or so FE members it has is a poorer representation than 8,000 from 180,000 or so. It's online petition is flawed in that it can be repeatedly signed by the same person over and over again, I have one colleague who admits to signing it many, many times and asking his children to keep going there and doing the same.

    This government has said repeatedly that it believes in a licence to practise - the IfL's version is no different but considerably cheaper than other models.

    I have never felt bullied or threatened by the IfL. I understand why it was set up, what it is trying to achieve and why it was the best choice when government decided to regulate the sector (not of IfL's making). I understand this because I bother to take the time to listen, to read and not sinmply rage against something without fully understanding it.

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    13 March, 2011


  • Chef...

    You are entitled to your opinion and I really hope the thread doesnt descend into bickering. I do not agree with you but I respect your view which must be based on a different experience to mine.

    At a time when FE is under huge financial pressure, many staff are concerned about the fee being demanded by the IfL. Surely you must agree that the IfL is far from transparent with its accounting? The GTCE and all other professional bodies I have encountered provide details of salary, pensions, expenses etc of their staff. They also breakdown their spending in a clear manner. We are being asked to pay many millions of pounds to a body which does not state what it spends on marketing, PR, consultancy and so on.

    In order to have faith in the IfL I need this information. I don't want to hand over my hard earned cash where there is a total lack of transparency. Why should I pay for someone else's free fruit, private health care or other perks so that they can claim to represent my views? I want to know the amount spent on expenses by the top staff. How frugal is this organisation? Possibly very, but I don't know that.

    I am happy to pay my union fees. If I am unhappy with the value I get I can change union. Last year when my wife was assaulted by a student the union were nothing short of superb. My personal opinion is that the IfL is not worth what it wishes to charge me AND owing to the way it is constituted, I seem to have no easy way to convey that other than through social media as, so far, my emails to the IfL have gone un-answered.

    Let's take one example. Even as an admirer of the IfL surely you have concerns about the amount of money (we can suppose - we don't know, they won't say) that must be spent by the IfL on 'glossies' to inform its members about what a great job it does?

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    13 March, 2011


  • I am deeply offended by the inference above [cheflecturer - 7:21
    13 March, 2011] that because I do not agree with the IfL I have not 'taken time to listen' to and 'do not understand' them. I am sure all lecturers that are taking time to share their thoughts, write to MPs, Ministers and IfL management, have taken a lot of time thinking about and understanding all view points and are not 'simply raging against' something.

    All of that said, I think there is a very simple solution to all of this, that does not involve the 'bonfire of this quango'.

    If the IfL are worthwhile and beneficial to their members then they should simply request they join and pay a membership fee. In return for this 'full' membership they can still receive all of the benefits the IfL claim they give to their members, such as the glossy magazines, access to discounts, use of the Reflect web interface, insurance, or legal support. However, these are 'services' that not everyone in the IfL wants, or ever uses, so should a member not wish to pay there should be a non-fee-paying membership option, which simply offers a membership number (already given free of charge) and no further benefits. This way no-one would have to be in breach of legislation on professional body membership, and the IfL will have to become more transparent to encourage membership in a competitive manner.

    Or do the IfL have something to hide? Are they worried that people will not think they do a good enough job to warrant joining of their own free will?

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    13 March, 2011


  • Ock 2 Million surplus is nothing. We have over 10 million surplus at Newcastle College yet we are still making cut backs to staffing, pay and conditions. Yes almost another 200 jobs to go in the name of business and as for the IFL they have never been any use to any of us.

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    13 March, 2011


  • All members should contact a member of the advisory board (contact IFL enquiries). I've just heard back from a member of the advisory board and he/she was very happy to listen to my concerns and share them with other members at the next meeting of the board.

    There are no other democratic channels of communication at the IFL (so much for being run by members for members!), but I would advise members to also contact their local Member of Parliament (again, my local MP has been very helpful in this respect and has called the current position 'completely unacceptable') and the Minster for Further Education (no response yet) to make their feelings known.

    I will probably pay the £68 fee by the deadline as I can't risk my salary for the sake of £68, but I will continue to press the government to repeal statutory instruments 2007 no 2116 and 2007 No 2264.

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    14 March, 2011


  • "I am deeply offended by the inference above [cheflecturer - 7:21
    13 March, 2011]"

    Deeply offended, or overly sensitive? In my experience they tend to be one and the same thing.

    "If the IfL are worthwhile and beneficial to their members then they should simply request they join and pay a membership fee."

    But it is not their decision - they didn't introduce the regulations and, as they are named in them, cannot campaign against them. You are attacking the wrong horse.

    "Let's take one example. Even as an admirer of the IfL surely you have concerns about the amount of money (we can suppose - we don't know, they won't say) that must be spent by the IfL on 'glossies' to inform its members about what a great job it does? "

    I am an admirer of no one, I simply deal in the facts. Take this claim. What 'glossies'? (indeed, what is a 'glossy'?)

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    15 March, 2011


  • Don't squirrels quite legitimately set aside a reserve (of food) for those times when resources are low?

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    15 March, 2011


  • Chef - apologies for my lack of clarity. By "glossies" I meant promotional literature.... it seems a bit of a waste of money for the IfL promote themselves to their members when their members have no choice other than to join.

    Anyway, progress has been made. We now know the salaries being paid... pretty impressive start.

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    15 March, 2011


  • truly, this is a quite stunning piece of investigative journalism.....

    next week in FE Focus "goldfish need regular feeding - exclusive"

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    15 March, 2011


  • "Chef - apologies for my lack of clarity. By "glossies" I meant promotional literature"

    Sorry friend, never received any.....

    Next week in FE Focus "BREAKING NEWS - IfL Chief Executive on just about lowest salary of any FE agency" ..... not going to set the world on fire, is it?

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    15 March, 2011


  • Journalism? The salaries are on the IfL website.

    I guess the key difference between IfL and any other FE agency is that I am not being forced into paying directly for the others?

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    16 March, 2011


  • After losing my PTVH hours late last year due to cuts in the adult education budget, I am currently not teaching and there is no guarantee I'll ever get back in (despite BA MA PGCE and Level 4 Adult Literacy Subject Specialist). And yet Ifl STILL expect me to cough up £68 AND log 6 hours CPD.
    It reminds me of the character in Monty Python's Four Yorkshireman sketch who said he had to "pay t' mill owner for permission to come to work" At least he had some work.
    I contacted Ifl pointing out that Trades Unions (unlike Ifl) differntiate fees according to whether you are full or part-time and they don't demand continued menbershio with the threat of stopping you working in the future. All i got back was the predictable cobblers about the "benefits" of membership, including much blowing of Ifl's own trumpet. Well let's face it, nobody else isgoing to do it.
    How many people are genuinely going to boycott the fees, do you think?

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    17 March, 2011


  • I can confirm that I am unwilling to pay the fee and will not do so. So that's one person anyway. I am in the privileged position of not caring if this renders me unemployable - I am nearing the end of a very long furlong. If it all ends in ignominy, so be it. This is no comfort to those of you who are facing a very real dilemma. Still, if I become a test case, I shall do my best for you all! There are some virtues to age, you see.

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    18 March, 2011


  • A complete and utter con. But there are many other examples - to become a teacher/lecturer you must complete professional qualifications (BA/Sc, PGCE, CertEd...) for which there are fees. You may not pay them (grants/loans) but they are there.

    And outside of the education sector, there's car insurance - a compulsory payment where the fee charged is worked out in a deliberately obscure way so that some can make lots of money so that we may drive.

    I remain disgusted by the hike in fees and for now remain baffled by the IfL's nonsensical marketing-spiel 'benefits' to members; however I am not surprised.

    @rdwilk10, I wholeheartedly agree that there should be levels of membership to include a free option. My organisation has its own CPD logging system which makes the IfL requirement even more tedious.

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    18 March, 2011


  • Well once again in response to our friend Cheflecturer, as follows;

    Personally I am not over sensitive, although you are perfectly entitled to your opinion, however to explain what I meant by being 'deeply offended' let me clarify, I think you are a deeply offensive man in the way you speak to people who just happen to disagree with a certain standpoint, or are we not all entitled to our opinions? I have to say I do hope you do not talk to your students in the same manner.

    Secondly regarding the IfL not making the decision for people to be members, you are quite right, it is government legislation, however the government do not set the fees, nor do they demand the IfL charge any at all, so to clarify, an easy solution that would solve all of the problems the IfL are facing regarding fees and compulsory membership;

    Option 1 - Free membership, you get a membership number (so don't break any laws) but access to none of the IfL's 'services or benefits'.

    Option 2 - Paid membership (at a lower price than £68) where not only do you get membership, but access to all of the 'services' the IfL offer.

    This way the IfL, will be forced to be more transparent, it will resolve the issues of non-payment and member dissatisfaction. It will also force the IfL into being more competitive, they can 'sell' their products, services and perks more, they can convince people that they actually WANT to join and pay because they have something members want. And if the IfL are indeed as confident as they say they are of the benefits of joining, they should have no fear in doing this, as surely they will get enough paying members to keep going.


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    21 March, 2011


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