Scotland's college lecturers have agreed to boycott the inputting of assessment results into college management systems – a move college managers say puts students' progression at risk.
It was revealed yesterday that members of the EIS-FELA union voted overwhelmingly in favour of escalating a programme of industrial action in an ongoing pay dispute, after staging four days of strike action this year. Today, the union's emergency committee authorised that escalation, including the implementation of action short of strike action.
As part of that, lecturers plan to refuse to record student results in their employer’s results system. They will also "withdraw goodwill", so refuse to carry out activities which are not contractually required. Strike action will also be continued, with strike days set for 8th May, 15th May and 16th May.
Lecturers demand cost-of-living pay rise
The dispute centres around lecturers' calls for what they believe to be a fair cost-of-living pay increase from college management. As part of Scotland's return to national bargaining, a pay deal has been agreed that means lecturers migrate on to a single pay scale. However, the deal does not include a cost-of-living pay increase.
Lecturers have repeatedly stated that management have been unwilling to negotiate on the increase, which they stress is separate from any pay harmonisation deals that have already been agreed.
Earlier this month, Scotland’s college employers' association wrote to lecturers, stating that a move to withhold results would "severely affect students in the sector as, without external verification by awarding bodies, they would be unable to achieve their qualifications, meaning they would be unable to move on to other courses at college or university, finalise their apprenticeships or move into jobs".
"This cannot be right, and we believe many lecturers will be aghast at this ploy, and, if so, we ask them to make it clear to their EIS-FELA branches that they do not want to put the students at such a disadvantage,” the association said.
Scotland's lecturers 'the best paid in the UK'
College Scotland's letter went on to say that the country's lecturers were "by far the best paid in the UK, and the pay harmonisation rises from 2017 to 2020, combined with the current pay offer on the table from colleges, equates to a national average increase of over £5,000”.
Last October, Tes reported that average lecturer pay in April 2018 was £35,809 in Scotland, while, by comparison, average lecturer pay in England was £30,035 in 2017, according to University and College Union calculations based on responses from 166 colleges. College staff in Wales and Northern Ireland are on common pay scales, but average salaries lag behind those in England.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The turnout in this ballot is actually higher than the turnout in our previous ballot for strike action, providing clear evidence that the mood amongst college lecturers is hardening. This ballot result also proves that the recent claim from Colleges Scotland that support for the campaign was waning is simply misleading propaganda from an organisation which seems to be more interested in attempting to union-bust than reach a settlement.”
He added the union had attempted to negotiate in good faith throughout the process, and continued to ask "only for a fair pay settlement in line with public sector pay policy".
Mr Flanagan added, “The question must be asked as to whether Colleges Scotland genuinely want to resolve this dispute. The EIS-FELA annual conference recently passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Colleges Scotland, and called for the Scottish government to intervene in the dispute. Colleges are part of our public sector education system, and Scottish government has a responsibility to lecturers and students.“
'An appalling ploy'
John Gribben, director of employment services at the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association, said: “Only a third of all lecturers at Scotland’s colleges have voted to support EIS-FELA’s appalling ploy, and even among EIS-FELA members, only a minority supported this attack on students. We are extremely disappointed that the EIS-FELA is committed to recklessly gambling with the futures of college students. It is not the behaviour anyone would expect from a professional body."
He added: “By withholding assessment results, the EIS-FELA will wreak havoc with students’ life opportunities, as without external verification by awarding bodies, they would be unable to achieve their qualifications, meaning they would be unable to move on to other courses at college or university, finalise their apprenticeships or move into jobs conditional on passing courses. This is an unprecedented and disgraceful attack on students at a critical time for them and their futures."
He said lecturers had had significant financial gains and improvements in terms and conditions over the same 2017-20 pay period, including an enviable 62 days’ holiday per year and a reduction in class contact time to 23 hours per week. "The EIS-FELA must realise that the current additional offer from colleges – costing over £10 million – is coming from cuts to college budgets."