Some of Britain's most talented lecturers are trapped in part-time jobs because they say colleges refuse to employ them full time.
College recruitment methods have created an army of ambitious lecturers who work beyond the hours they are paid for - effectively providing cheap labour.
Evidence has emerged from a series of in-depth interviews with more than 200 part-time staff who were nominated for the first national award to celebrate exceptional part-time teaching in further education.
Protocol Professional, the biggest recruitment agency for part-time staff, created the New Horizons Award to draw attention to the quality of workers it says are routinely undervalued in FE.
A substantial number of staff nominated for awards said they wished to remain part-time while working in their industry. As one lecturer in software engineering said, it helped him "keep ahead of the game ".
An anatomy and physiology lecturer said part-time teaching allowed her to remain in the industry and keep up her own practice. However, a significant minority said they wanted full-time work but none was available.
Almost all staff reported working considerably beyond their paid hours on issues ranging from curriculum development and preparation of learning materials to student support and contacts with parents.
One lecturer mentioned working four days unpaid managing a exhibition stand . She said she "has never been offered a full-time post" and that the department had only one full-time manager.
Joanna Martin, chairman of the judging panel, said: "The judges found it extremely difficult to choose from such a high standard of entry. What all the regional winners have in common is an immense dedication, not just in terms of the extra hours they put in but in how much of themselves they have given, and the impact their contributions have made on their students and on the college."
College managers contacted by The TES after the competition admitted serious recruitment problems which, they said, were caused by the way FE was funded. The principal of a large college in the West of England said:
"We constantly have to layoff full-time staff and make do with part-timers.
They are dedicated and work disproportionately long hours."
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the lecturers' union Natfhe, said the plight of part-timers was an issue the union was pressing in its submission to Sir Andrew Foster's review of FE. "If these people were employed on a factional basis then the extra non-teaching duties could be written into contracts.
"This is not just the principal cause of exploitation but the principal cause of precarious quality. You don't notice problems with this level of dedication but you do when a good part-timer leaves."
Evidence to support the nominations was gathered by researchers working on behalf of independent judges, including Jacqui Henderson, London regional director for the Learning and Skills Council, Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and the TES.
The researchers carried out interviews with college management, students or former students, and a "My story" interview with the nominee.The regional award winners have been selected by an independent panel of judges.
* Caroline Forknall, Cleveland college of art design (North-east)
* Catherine Berrisford, Bury college (North-west)
* Kirsteen Todd, Yorkshire Coast college (Yorkshire Humberside)
* Lisa Hassine, Stamford college (East Midlands)
* Robert Crick, Warwickshire college (West Midlands)
* Jenny Cox, Cambridge college (East of England)
* Lisa Socrates, Newham sixth- form college (London)
* Mark Howells, Havering college (South-east)
* Di Wells, Gloscat (South-west)
* Margaret Stott, Aberdeen college (Scotland)
* Gill Britten, Yale college (Wales)
Each regional winner was awarded pound;1,000. The national winner of a further pound;3,000 will be announced next month