Election result was a decisive call for change

13th June 1997 at 01:00
There is a struggle to reform and modernise NATFHE and a strategy to create a new post-16 organisation. Your analysis of the general secretary John Akker's early retirement (The TES, May 23) missed the point.

My recent election as vice president was in a straight contest between old and new NATFHE. The extremist left pursued the old confrontational approach. My position was to look forward to the new opportunities presented by the election of a Labour Government to promote further and higher education to the top of the political agenda. My election result was decisive. There is a mandate for change. The union is ready to take advantage of the new political climate.

It would be unrealistic to expect instant success. The legacy of the negligence of successive Conservative governments is the root cause of the disputes which have occurred up and down the country. We believe it is time to end the war in FE. Our strategy is to prioritise the political campaign to get the government to conduct a fundamental review of the future of FE and to deal with the funding difficulties. The creation of an equitable pay and conditions framework would go a long way to removing the need for industrial confrontation. The election of the Labour Government provides us with the opportunity of dialogue.

If the union wishes to be taken seriously, its message must be unequivocal. We must be united behind the strategy to resolve the dispute by agreeing a fair framework. We must not allow the sectarian politics of the fringe to blur that message. We are where we are. We are not wedded to a contract that only exists for a tiny minority. There are 176 examples of the union demonstrating that it can reach agreements locally. There is no logical reason why we can't achieve a national framework. We are calling on all FE lecturers to support our campaign for unity and a joint approach with our employers to government. We are not asking the government for miracles. We need a long-term commitment to reversing the destruction and opening up opportunities and access for the communities we serve.

The union is in a unique position in relation to other education unions. We organise in both further and higher education. When the Dearing report is published, our ability to organise across both sectors will become crucial. The view of the Government towards access to higher education will be fundamentally different to that of the Conservatives. We look forward to sharing our perspective with ministers on achieving equality of funding of higher education, wherever it is delivered, and to ensuring that the pathways from further to higher education are unobstructed and open to all.

The union is not inward looking. We are taking a radical look at our own organisation to make it more flexible and able to respond to the different needs of our members. It is essential that our further education and higher education members have political and financial independence on those matters that are crucial to them, while maintaining unity on those matters which they wish to have common ground. We need to share resources to ensure that our members benefit from the economies of scale that working together brings. National conferences supported a fundamental review of our organisational structures. We need a structure that meets our sectoral needs and allows greater participation of the membership. We are committed to this reform and it will be achieved on the basis of full consultation with branch officers and the membership.

We have opened up a real debate about co-operation between unions. The FE sector is the pivotal point. The post-school union model that we are working on provides an opportunity to break through obstacles preventing unity of the teaching and lecturing professions. Everyone pays lip service to unity, but few are prepared to overcome the vested interests which block the path.

Our radical approach to our own organisation opens up the possibility of federal arrangements with others. We are in the process of negotiations with the AUT on the possibility of creating a new post-16 organisation. In our view there is no contradiction between creating a single voice for higher education and enabling co-operation on matters in which we have a common interest within a federal structure. We should avoid duplication of services and benefit from the economies of scale that sharing resources would bring. I believe that the model that is being investigated will be of interest to everyone who wishes to achieve a re-alignment and genuine unity within the education service and I am proud that we are at the forefront of this debate.

Moira Carr, National Vice-President, NATFHE

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