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Staff scramble to take redundancy

AROUND 100 staff have volunteered for redundancy at Somerset College of Arts and Technology - twice the number needed by management - following its decision to reduce debt by cutting staff.

Many volunteers have had applications rejected. Jobs are to go across the board at the Taunton-based college which employs 1,100 full and part-time staff, and has around 13,000 students.

Almost one in 10 of the staff applied to leave. However, the college denies a crisis of morale. "When people were told they had to stay, on the whole they were happy to see what they are doing is valued," said spokeswoman Dr Liz Payne-Ahmadi.

Originally it was feared that 70 lecturers and administrators would have to go. Following talks between staff and management, this was reduced to 50. The first departures will be next month.

John Fagan, lecturers' union NATFHE's branch organiser at the college, said: "The package on offer was slightly more generous than we were expecting.

"As the age profile is quite high compared with some other colleges, a number of older people were thinking they could afford to go."

Dr Payne-Ahmadi said there was the chance an "infinitesimally small number" may be made redundant compulsorily.

That prospect has alarmed some in NATFHE because terms offered by the college to volunteers are better than for anyone who may be forced to go. NATFHE regional office John Bryant was also sceptical about management's claim that morale had been unaffected.

"When you get 100 volunteers it says an awful lot about morale, not only at the college but in FE generally," he said.

"Our members have increased productivity and face a great deal of stress. They are constantly watching their backs to see if they have still got a job at the end of the day."

Meanwhile, a public meeting was held this week to discuss the future of Colchester Institute, in Essex.

The college is proposing to axe 58 jobs and abandon full-time A-level courses, with a view to concentrating on vocational areas.

NATFHE has passed a vote of no confidence in the governing body, and the principal, Helen Parr, who has resigned to take over at Oaklands College in St Albans, Hertfordshire. The lecturers are also holding balloting on a raft of courses of industrial action.

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, has requested an urgent meeting with lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks to discuss the situation.

He said the fact that the institute would not allow the public meeting to be held on its premises was an indication of how high feelings were. He said there was unanimous opposition to the direction the institute proposed to take.

A spokeswoman for the institute said the public meeting had been nothing to do with the college.

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