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Lecturers 'alienated' by college reforms

The new commercial ethos of further education has turned the sector from a public service into a market-driven enterprise, alienating and isolating lecturers in the process, according to new research.

Incorporation has "radically altered the nature of post compulsory education and training", Karen Yarrow of the Open University told the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in Belfast this week.

Lecturers who entered the profession out of a desire to teach "feel that they have become instructors of pre-packaged and fragmented courses," she says. "This has served to isolate the lecturer from the student, alienate lecturers from their institutions and erode their professional identities."

Ms Yarrow, a former FE lecturer, interviewed 32 teaching staff at three English colleges as research for an Open University doctorate.

She found that lecturers are split into three schools of thought - dissenters (who find the new market culture "a complete anathema"), accommodators (who work within the system believing change to be inevitable) and embracers (who see incorporation as an opportunity to be responsive and cost-effective in a way local education authority-run colleges never were).

Her paper, The changing role of the professional in the new further education, argues that all three groups have had to adapt and take on new, "multi-skilling" responsibilities in order to meet the needs of the business-driven culture of colleges in the late 1990s.

However, this has led to a divided workforce, with "embracers" seeing it as an opportunity to improve their skills and "dissenters" believing it detracts from their true vocation.

Those not subscribing to the new orthodoxy, enforced by inspection regimes, will find themselves increasingly marginalised in the future, she predicts.

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