Education Lecturing Services, which has been endorsed by the Colleges' Employers' Forum, will set up a database of 10,000 lecturers, intending to build up to 40,000. It will charge colleges Pounds 6,000 to join and an annual fee of Pounds 6,000 and will take a 9 per cent cut for each lecturer provided. Colleges will be provided with computers and software which will allow them direct access to the database.
ELS will be responsible for vetting all members and also intends to offer training packages for would-be lecturers and returners to the profession. The aim is to revolutionise the workforce in colleges by making it easier and cheaper for principals to use part-time staff.
Geoff Lennox, chief executive of ELS and former chief education officer of Derbyshire, said he envisages colleges maintaining a core staff, of say 70 per cent, and the rest could be recruited from the agency - at a variety of rates depending upon experience and duties - when required.
The proposed rates suggested by ELS are organised into four bands: Pounds 10.29, Pounds 12.46, Pounds 19.04 and Pounds 21.08. The current hourly rates range from Pounds 14.17 to Pounds 22.60 for part-timers who represent 25 per cent of college work.
Mr Lennox said: "It will be the college's decision to set the rate but we suggest they need not pay more than these figures."
Some principals have said the ELS package is too costly, but the advantages for employers include not having to pay holiday or sickness pay or redundancy money to the lecturers, who will be self-employed. It will also provide a greater flexibility by allowing them to recruit at short notice.
Mr Lennox said many colleges were having difficulties meeting the planned expansion of the sector and, because of funding problems, were making redundant staff they would rather not lose . The agency will make it cheaper to staff courses when they are needed.
Roger Ward, chief executive of the CEF, said the new initiative will enable FE colleges to be 20 per cent more efficient in meeting student targets and adapting to curriculum changes.
But Richard Eve, assistant secretary of NATFHE, the lecturers' union, had reservations. He said: "No way should there be a rate of Pounds 10 per hour. Preparation is still required and staff have to make sure they are still up to date. I can see that principals will welcome a greater flexibility, but I would prefer to see a greater emphasis on fractional appointments, where part-time staff are paid pro rata with full-time lecturers.
* The Association of University Teachers launched a campaign this week to fight for the rights of part-time staff.
They are the fastest growing group of academic employees and two-thirds are women. The AUT said they should have parity with full-timers.