College for blind snubs union

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Lecturers' union seeks recognition as staff and students fear job and course losses in restructuring

Lecturers' union seeks recognition as staff and students fear job and course losses in restructuring

A college for the blind defended itself this week as lecturers complained that their union had been left out in the cold as cuts loom.

The University and College Union (UCU) said it was forced to use a village hall to meet its members from the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford.

It said the need to represent them was increasing because the college was making changes that had left staff in fear of redundancy, and students uncertain about their future.

A college spokeswoman said: "In its 135-year history, the college has not recognised trade unions."

She said there was "constant dialogue" between staff and management through a consultation group, and the case for recognition had not been made because the college had not received proof of the size of UCU membership. But the union said this was because people would feel vulnerable if their membership was revealed to college managers.

It said some students did not know whether their courses would continue to be taught from September, while staff were concerned about job losses as the college goes through a restructuring process.

Nick Varney, UCU regional official, said: "There isn't proper consultation with staff. There are long-serving teachers being dismissed in selection processes that have never been negotiated.

"Students don't know if their courses will be available next year, and some are concerned they won't be able to study at a specialist college."

Christine Steadman, principal of the college, said: "Every college in the UK at this time of year reviews its curriculum offer and staffing in light of the latest government legislation, current funding conditions, employer requirements, skill gaps in the workplace and, of course, the individual requirements of learners."

The college, whose patron is the Prince of Wales, said it had not decided which courses would be cut, but the decision would be based on the level of demand. It said that where courses were cut, students would be able to continue them at the local sixth-form college.

Concerned students include Arthur Turner, 47, who has been retraining after his career in information technology was cut short by his deteriorating eyesight.

Mr Turner said he was one of a number of students whose future employment prospects depend on the college's specialist approach to vocational and academic tuition.

He has been studying A-level maths and piano technology, which would enable him to work as a piano tuner. But he now fears both courses are likely to be scrapped.

"It's cost me a year of my life and it's difficult enough to get a job," he said. "The biggest bugbear for me is the fact that the choice is being taken away."

Despite the college's reassurances, Mr Turner said it was unlikely he could get the same provision elsewhere, particularly in mainstream colleges where he would need teachers who could read the specialist Braille used in both subjects.

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