A SURPRISE bonus of pound;32 million for colleges this week may help to fend off the threat of strikes by lecturers.
Some college principals had warned that they would not be able to afford more than a 1.6 per cent pay rise this year - in line with the increase announced by the Learning and Skills Council last July.
But extra cash announced this week takes the rise to 2.5 per cent, bringing the total increase to pound;88m. Several principals told FE Focus this should allow for a two-stage inflation-beating deal similar to last year.
But other principals said the sector should go for a big pay rise to put pressure on the LSC and Government in advance of Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending review. One principal said: "The AOC made a deal with the unions to close the gap between teachers and lecturers' pay by 2004 - we must honour that."
However, neither group was willing to sanction anywhere near the pound;3,000 flat rate being demanded by lecturers' union NATFHE. The AOC is carrying out a survey of attitudes among all colleges.
The LSC promise of new cash was one of two major announcements this week from the council aimed at boosting funds and cutting bureaucracy.
John Harwood, the LSC's chief executive, said: "From today (Wednesday) we will no longer expect colleges to pay back funding for delivering education to different groups of learners, where they have met or exceeded targets across the board."
Some principals were cynical, saying the clawback was dropped because it was an auditing nightmare for the council. But the decision was welcomed by many who said they had been badly penalised for failing to recruit enough teenagers even though they had surpassed targets in all other areas.
Peter Pendle, chief executive of the Association for College Management, said: "This has to make sense. Selecting students is not a science but an intelligent guess based on market research."
Joanna Tait, principal of Bishop Auckland College, said her college lost pound;87,000 two years ago. "It was a double whammy. We never even had the cash in the first place, then had money deducted for missing a target."
David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC, said: "We do welcome the moves but we have had 1 per cent efficiency gains imposed on us - which schools and universities have not - for nine years."
Julian Gravatt, director of finance at the City Lit, and a prominent Parliament watcher, said: "This is the dismantling of some of the dafter aspects of Further Education Funding Council control. The LSC does seem to have been listening to what people have been telling them."
It would take some time, however, for such benefits to come through, he predicted. "The council's budgets keep going up by big amounts but the Government keeps expecting more."
"Meanwhile, the council is having to do more for teenagers, for adults and for higher education and also having to fund inflation. They received Curriculum 2000 cash for one year while students signed up for two," said Mr Gravatt.