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Lecturers 'vote with their feet' over pay

Colleges have little to offer as older staff retire early and younger recruits are turned off by poor salaries. Steve Hook reports

THE corduroy generation of lecturers aged over 45 is being driven out by poor morale and low pay, according to a survey by their union.

Increasing numbers of them are taking early retirement and they are not being replaced fast enough by a younger generation which is turned off by poor pay, according to the lecturers' union NATFHE.

The study was published this week as NATFHE staged a two-day strike, on Tuesday and Wednesday, in rejection of the 1.5 per cent pay offer from the Association of Colleges. It wants a substantial increase for lecturers and progress towards achieving parity with colleagues in schools.

The researchers, from Ruskin College, in Oxford, interviewed 4,000 college lecturers, and revealed many are considering quitting the further education sector.

"Lecturers are fed up, angry and voting with their feet," said Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE. "Lecturers' pay is, on average, 12 per cent less than schoolteachers' pay and all they've had are promises that things are going to get better, but they haven't. It is an insult to offer lecturers 1.5 per cent when the schoolteachers' pay award is nearly 5 per cent.

"Lecturers are leaving in droves for better pay in industry and schools and young people are turning their backs on further education as a career.

"Our message to both the employers and the Government is, 'Between you, sort this mess out'."

The AOC claims early indications are that most of the 280 colleges where lecturers were striking were virtually unscathed by the action, with "essential classes" going ahead as normal.

But it says one college which has had to cancel a significant number of lessons is Leicester, where the Department for Education and Skills'

director-general of lifelong learning, Janice Shiner, was principal until her recent appointment.

The AOC recently commissioned a poll of backbench MPs which showed 90 per cent of them thought FE lecturers' pay should match schoolteachers'.

"We would agree with that view," said Ivor Jones, AOC director of employment policy. "But we don't think the strike will have an impact on whether the money is forthcoming. We would like to see negotiations continue with NATFHE because there are other issues on the table than just the pay claim which we could make progress on."

The AOC insists it is powerless to improve the pay offer without further money from the Government - blaming a range of financial pressures including the increased insurance costs after September 11.

"The root problem causing this strike is the financial crisis facing FE colleges across the country," said Mr Lewis. "We are trying to meet pay demands from core funding, which the Government has set at 90 per cent of 1995-1996 levels. Even the special initiative funds which the Government put in place last year to improve the pay of some teaching staff have this year been reduced in at least half of colleges."

The AOC is backing NATFHE's call for the DFES to dig into a pound;1.4 billion underspend to fund better pay for lecturers.

Shadow education secretary Damian Green said: "The strike reflects the falling morale of teachers and staff in further and higher education. They have been driven to the brink by excessive government interference and micro-management, which is destroying their sense of professionalism."

Strike over pay, 31

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