THE two further education unions have now formally struck a merger agreement. But final approval will have to await a ballot in August of 1,000 members of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Association to approve their transfer to the Educational Institute of Scotland.
The move, which has provoked strong opposition from the EIS's FE members over what some see as the overly generous merger terms for the tiny SFHEA, was hailed as "excellent news for lecturers in further and higher education and for Scottish education as a whole" by Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS.
SFHEA members will be distributed to the EIS's FE and HE sections, with the College Lecturers' Association of the EIS making way for a new Further Education Lecturers' Association (FELA).
Mr Smith struck a more optimistic tone on professional unity than he did in his annual conference speech earlier this month when he castigated the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association for signing up to the teachers'
deal and then opposing some of the consequences. This week he signalled his hope that the FE merger could pave the way for a single union to represent all teachers and lecturers.
The SFHEA is required by law to ballot its members, unlike the EIS which is the "receiving union" under the agreement.
The merger cannot come too soon for the smaller union. It told members in a "strictly confidential" assessment that it was losing members and activists and could not continue in its present form.
Eric Smith, general secretary of the SFHEA, said: "I strongly believe that the agreement we have signed today will be of great benefit to our members and to Scottish education. Subject to the approval of our members by ballot, we will be creating a stronger union which will be better able to represent the interests of all those who work in further and higher education in Scotland."