Talks over the cost to FE lecturers of compulsory membership of the Institute for Learning (IfL) are close to delivering "substantial" savings, FE Focus has learnt.
Initiated by FE minister John Hayes following an outcry over a 120 per cent fee increase announced earlier this year, the talks between unions, the IfL and the Association of Colleges (AoC) are aimed at ending opposition to the compulsory pound;68-a-year fee.
Many lecturers were outraged that the charge is more than doubling while the equivalent body for school teachers is being scrapped. It is the first time FE teachers have had to pay the charge themselves, instead of it being funded by the Government.
Talks are set to continue over the next few weeks as outstanding issues are resolved, but sources aware of the discussions said there was likely to be agreement on a significantly lower fee. One said: "We are confident of being able to agree on a substantial reduction."
Some sources referred to a pound;34-a-year charge for full-time members, with concessions for those working fewer hours, but it is understood that the IfL would only find such a reduction sustainable if all eligible members paid.
Announcing the fee changes in February, the IfL said one of its main justifications for the increase was the fear that by charging individual members rather than receiving a block grant from Government, collection rates could fall substantially while costs rise.
As a result of this, the talks have also turned to whether the AoC would be able to recommend that its member colleges pay all or part of lecturers' fees. But the association has so far set itself against such a recommendation, believing colleges would not support it.
The AoC argues the IfL should have a direct relationship with lecturers, and that if colleges paid the fee it would set a precedent for other non- teaching members of staff who are required to join professional bodies.
Other issues also remain: the talks are aimed not only at setting an acceptable fee, but also at ensuring that IfL members feel they are getting good value. Participants are investigating ways of ensuring that the institute's work is more relevant to FE teachers in order to justify mandatory membership.
Possible changes to the IfL's governance are believed to be under discussion, as is a greater role in continuing professional development.
Whether reforms will assuage the harshest critics is another matter. Despite the IfL's membership survey showing widespread support for it, a vocal minority of lecturers is campaigning for the institute to become a voluntary body.
Several submissions to the Government's Red Tape Challenge, an online consultation aimed at reducing unnecessary regulation, call for the statutory requirement for IfL membership to be scrapped.
In one of these, Douglas Rouxel said: "It ties lecturers into membership of an organisation which only exists to impose top-down audits of the activities of lecturers in developing themselves."
Original headline: Hopes for `substantial' cut to IfL fee gather pace