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EIS fights college cull

More than 100 lecturers are facing the sack at James Watt College's campuses in Greenock and North Ayrshire although the college is not facing a financial deficit, the Educational Institute of Scotland claimed last weekend at its FE lecturers' annual conference in Edinburgh.

Alan Ferguson, branch secretary and staff member on the college board, hotly disputed the college's case for compulsory redundancies within three months and the transfer of all existing lecturers' contracts to new terms and conditions. There will be no enhanced redundancy terms.

Only last month (February 17), The TES Scotland highlighted a secret minute from the Association of Scotland's Colleges which forecast sweeping modernisation plans across colleges after ministers demanded closer links between pay and performance at local level.

Union activists last weekend pledged firm action against the "unprecedented" action at James Watt College with Jack Barnett, EIS president, promising full support. "We are not prepared to stand idly by,"

Mr Barnett declared.

Mr Ferguson told delegates that lecturers attending an open meeting with Bill Wardle, college principal, had been informed that the college was heading for break-even this financial year after a half million pound deficit last year. The projected budget indicated a small surplus of around pound;20,000.

"We are not talking about a redundancy situation brought about by a large deficit or projected deficit and that has been the case at all the other colleges I know of," Mr Ferguson said.

In his letter last week to staff, Mr Wardle stated: "The college has been for some time in a situation where the cost base and annual income are uncomfortably close. This means that there is little or no cushion to absorb any unexpected reductions in income, andor increases in costs. It also reduces the college's ability to develop as quickly, or as expansively, as it would wish, in areas where investment is required to improve, for example, estates, equipment or to increase staffing where activity requires it."

Mr Wardle said that changing curriculum demands meant the college "can no longer sustain the staffing levels which exist".

Last week he wrote to the Department of Trade and Industry, as he is required by law to do, to explain college plans. In a further letter to the media, Mr Wardle notes that the Scottish Funding Council is demanding financial stability in the sector by July and that there is no prospect of any further cash for colleges in trouble.

"It is our responsibility, therefore, to confront these challenges head-on in order to ensure that we are fully prepared to take the necessary steps to improve our current situation and establish a firm base for future operations," he said.

In his submission to staff, the principal also argued that the college was not as efficient as its comparators. James Watt's performance was at 385 SUMs (student units of measurement) - the standard measure of efficiency - against comparators' averages of 430. Lecturers were paid at the higher end but productivity and class contact hours were at the lower end, he said.

But Mr Ferguson disputed the figures. The Scottish average was 350 SUMs, he said, with James Watt 10 per cent above that.

Mr Wardle wants to increase the maximum annual number of working hours and raise the weekly teaching commitment to 24 hours and in some cases to 27 hours. "In football parlance, he's lost the dressing room. James Watt College is going nowhere but down while he is at the head of it," Mr Ferguson said.

Senior members of the funding council were due to visit the college as we went to press on Wednesday.

* Lecturers at Inverness College, which remains in deficit, are still facing 25 redundancies by June, the conference heard.

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