Staff resigned to loss of control

Lecturers and support staff in colleges say their jobs have been reduced to the role of technicians. But they hold out little hope of changes regardless of who comes to power in two weeks.

The loss of professional control is the single biggest complaint of 250 staff contacted in The TES telephone survey of voting intentions, reported last week. Demands for more flexible learning for students since incorporation has meant "less flexible working" for staff.

Even in colleges where managers won praise for a liberal approach and encouraging staff to take control, there was a perceived threat from the continued cuts in the name of efficiency.

The head of humanities in one large north-east college said: "You hear horror stories from other colleges and ask how your own college can hold off."

A head of politics in a medium-size south-east college, said: "The loss of professional control is most worrying. It is an insidious thing - a gradual eating away of control."

The TES survey showed 64 per cent backed Labour, 13 per cent supported the Conservatives, 7 per cent the Liberal Democrats and the rest (around 16 per cent) were undecided. There was a general feeling that Labour had the election wrapped up but that there would be a surprise from the Lib Dems.

The large number of undecided voters (split evenly between traditional Conservative and Labour voters) signals support for Lib Dems, which is not always apparent in other polls, several political analysts in FE colleges said. Most of the undecided were considering voting for the Lib Dems.

A politics lecturer from Dewsbury said: "I think strategic voting will play a bigger role than ever in this election. We will see the Lib Dems getting a lower vote nationally but more seats than before."

A lecturer from the Lib Dems education spokesman Don Foster's constituency said: "Don Foster ousted Chris Patten last time through tactical voting. This time he has a much higher profile than the Tory. Others in the party have also learned a lot from those tactics."

The head of politics at a West Midlands college, said: "Labour has this election sewn up. Most of the waverers identified in The TES poll will end up voting Labour or Tory. But I reckon enough will be convinced to back Liberal. The number may be small but it will be enough to win key seats."

Whoever wins ignores the frustrations in further education at their peril, the poll suggests. When asked to list their main concerns, lecturers in staffroom straw polls put loss of professional control top, next came increased bureaucracy.

Increased workloads and falling pay (compared with schools) came joint third. Cramped or crumbling classrooms came fifth and the general failure of politicians and the media to appreciate FE was sixth.

Several lecturers expressed concern that they would appear to be whingeing, as school teachers were not much better off, if at all. One lecturer said: "Teachers feel just as hard done by, possibly worse, but at least they are in the limelight. There is a feeling that the public is genuinely concerned and that something will be done about it."

Just over half the lecturers and support staff interviewed thought there should be a Dearing-style review of FE. But many - whether for or against such a review - feared that the outcome would be to hive off the problems into another sector, such as HE, without addressing the fundamental question of resources.

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