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Redundancy threat hangs over arts and technology lecturers

UP to 70 jobs are under threat at the Somerset College of Arts and Technology, in Taunton. Losses are expected across the board as the college, which employs 1,100 full and part-time and has around 13,000 students, seeks to cut its wage bill.

Lecturers fear they will bear the brunt. The college says that the current level of salaries is "unsustainably high". "If we carry on exactly as we are, then eventually we would become bankrupt," said spokeswoman Dr Liz Payne-Ahmadi.

A 30-day consultation period with staff and unions is now under way. All employees have been sent a letter by college principal Alison Scott. The college says it hopes that job losses can be achieved voluntarily.

The announcement comes as SCAT embarks on a major rebuilding programme costing pound;12 million, and restructuring. One element is the creation of six off-campus open learning centres where students have access to study packages, careers advice and tutorial support.

Dr Payne-Ahmadi said that new technology dictates a need for flexibility. "We are developing distance learning courses - we already deliver A-level psychology this way," she said.

There is apprehension among members of lecturers' union NATFHE, to which most SCAT lecturers belong. Regional support officer John Bryant is hoping for further talks to prevent redundancies. "I am sure the college can find employmen for all our staff," he said.

"This sort of situation tends to arise when there has been financial mismanagement. SCAT's problems seem to have arisen from franchising, followed by clawback by the Further Education and Funding Council."

John Fagan, NATFHE branch organiser, says the college has owned up to some financial inefficiency. "In meetings we've had, management admitted in one instance to spending the same money twice," he said.

NATFHE members at SCAT are already in dispute following management's decision to erode non-teaching hours for course leaders. They have been asked to teach two extra hours a week, which resulted in the departure of several part-time lecturers after Christmas.

Mr Fagan said there could be industrial action at the college, where pay levels have already depressed morale. "We didn't get the nationally agreed rise because the college claimed it couldn't afford it," he said.

It is understood that some lecturers could be re-deployed to open learning centres. If they are, their status, following negotiations with management, will be protected contractually for three years.

But John Bryant fears that elsewhere in the region, open learning centre staff without such protection could end up as cheap labour. "I've heard of one college where someone was employed at pound;14,000 a year for a 45-hour week," he said.

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