MINISTERS have pledged to pay off the student loans of college lecturers in shortage subjects but say housing subsidies will be restricted to school teachers.
This represents a contradiction in government policy, according to Paul Mackney, general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. "One minister has got the right message and the other one hasn't," he said.
Stephen Timms, schools standards minister, announced that undergraduate loans of all new teachers in shortage subjects will be paid off as "part of a strategy to recruit high-quality teachers of shortage subjects to maintained schools and further education, and to keep them there".
Meanwhile the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions claims help with housing under the Starter Homes Initiative (SHI) will only go to school teachers.
"It is very disappointing," said Kevin Finnegan, principal of Orpington College. "Houses in Bromley cost on average pound;160,000. It is a tough task for teachers to afford housing within the borough. Some are having to commute from a long distance.
"This would have allowed someone to have a subsidised home within the borough. This is just another illustration of the differentials that exist between teachers in schools and those in the FE sector. The gap is becoming greater."
Sally Keeble, regeneration minister, said housing subsidy is "being targeted on teachers working in schools because this is where the most severe recruitment and retention problems in the profession are being experienced".
Mr Mackney says FE lecturers have the lowest morale of any group of workers in the country and are paid 10 per cent less than their counterparts in school sixth-forms, even though they teach 40 per cent of 16-19 students. He claims one in five colleges has a 20 per cent turnover.
"FE is an area where, if they can find something else to do, then they will," he warned. "We have to do everything we can to cherish and nurture FE colleges."
NATFHE's concerns are echoed by the Association of Colleges. "FE lecturers need this extra support. It needs to be done across the board," said Des O'Hare, employee relations manager for the AOC.
"There is already a pay differential between colleges and schools and now teachers are getting all these extra perks as well."
The SHI is concentrated in London and the South-east but is available in the eastern and South-west as well. It is targeted at high-price areas. A total of 3,500 teachers will benefit from the scheme which offers interest-free equity loans of pound;10,000 and a shared ownership scheme.
Fears that FE is getting second-class treatment have been echoed by Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee of MPs. "Overall, the sector must raise its game if the national learning targets are to be met," he said.
The PAC has called on colleges to improve after discovering only 56 per cent of students get the qualifications they study for.