The Educational Institute of Scotland has attacked college bosses for opposing compulsory registration of lecturers with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, saying their actions can only be described as "thinly disguised self-interest".
Jack Barnett, the union's outgoing president, told its annual meeting in Dundee last week that registration would create a national framework to support and promote training needs; result in standards being set, maintained and enhanced independently of colleges themselves; help establish parity of esteem between teachers and FE lecturers - important at a time when school-college partnerships are being developed; and contribute to the development of a world-class education system in Scotland.
Mr Barnett said: "The time has never been better for the mandatory registration of all college lecturers with the GTCS - how much longer must we wait?"
He expressed bitter disappointment that Nicol Stephen, Lifelong Learning Minister, had decided that "the time is not yet right" for the creation of a professional body for college lecturers. "Is it not ironic that it is the trade union side - often portrayed as dinosaurs resistant to all change - who are advocating compulsory registration?" he asked.
However, Mr Barnett welcomed recent decisions requiring all full-time and part-time lecturers to gain a teaching qualification within certain time limits, and the expectation that lecturers should undertake a minimum of continuing professional development.
"Nowhere is there a greater desire for access to high-quality, relevant CPD as a professional entitlement than in the further education sector - not least to meet the challenges faced by lecturers in relation to the implementation of school-college partnerships," Mr Barnett said.
"This has been recognised by the EIS through our aim of having a minimum of one learning representative in every FE college in Scotland - a target we are on the way to achieving."
The FE branch of the EIS, meanwhile, has been boosted by the election of Kirsty Devaney, of Dundee College, as vice-president. Assuming she succeeds the new president, Peter Quigley, Ms Devaney will be the first EIS president to come from the FE wing of the institute.
Her colleagues from EIS-FELA, meanwhile, raised the spectre of further and higher education being liberalised and traded off as an international commercial commodity under the General Agreement on Trade in Services - just as coffee beans or bananas are traded in Gatt (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).
Greg McCarra, EIS-ULA, told delegates that GATS was "a very big beast"
which was getting hungrier all the time. Bringing higher education into GATS could lead to the commercialisation of the sector and would pose a threat to individual freedom, personal autonomy and funding.
If HE became a tradeable commodity under GATS, higher education institutions could be moved from their outposts in America to anywhere else - including Scotland - and allowed to run their degree programmes there. If Scottish universities came under funding constraints, they might feel compelled to buy material and deliverers of material from these outposts, Mr McCarra warned.
"We could find ourselves undermined by the import of cheap academic labour.
It is not happening just now because the legislation is there. The current legislation recognises that HE is not a commodity but a human right. But through globalisation, intellectual property rights developed in Scotland could become the property of another company from elsewhere.
"We were close to seeing HE included in GATS three years ago. We came very close to seeing it being traded off for something else. Last December there was a ministerial declaration calling for a progressively higher liberalisation in trade and services. It's a big beast - it's coming for you," Mr McCarra said.