FE staff ordered to pay up for compulsory membership of IfL

20th November 2009 at 00:00
Loss of pound;5m government subsidy leaves teachers footing costs for joining a professional body to which they are compelled to belong

Staff in further education face being forced to pay for compulsory membership of their professional body, the Institute for Learning (IfL), which has warned that its fees will have to rise sharply.

Last week's national skills strategy, Skills for Growth, proposed cutting off government cash for IfL and requiring it to become "self-funding" within three years. That means charging its fees to members instead of claiming about pound;5 million a year of public money.

But membership will still be required by statute in order to teach at colleges or for any publicly funded provision, which affects more than 180,000 staff.

The decision has raised questions about how IfL can establish itself as a champion of FE teaching professionals when members have joined under "duress" and now face the added obligation of a fee.

Toni Fazaeli, IfL chief executive, admitted that its fees would inevitably have to rise from the current pound;30 a year because of the cost of setting up a collections department instead of receiving guaranteed income.

She said: "Our concern in pure, practical terms is about the cost - the cost to our members and getting the most effective way of resourcing IfL. In effect, the Government was able to purchase a mass discount rate of pound;30 a head for a single membership."

The organisation's research into about 30 work areas ranging from architecture to nursing has suggested that similar professional bodies charge between pound;60 and pound;120 a year.

But school teachers continue to pay just pound;33 a year to the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) despite government subsidy being withdrawn.

However, Ms Fazaeli said the GTC was a much larger body, benefiting from greater economies of scale, and with a less diverse membership, all working for schools and local authorities where deductions could easily be made at source.

This year's fees have already been paid out of central funding, and Ms Fazaeli said she hoped the subsidy would be phased out gradually so that the institute could prepare itself and its members for a fee-paying system.

The move is likely to heighten the bitter difference of opinion among some FE staff over compulsory membership. As one contributor to the FE Focus online forums said: "If IfL was so flaming wonderful, everyone would have joined when it was a `voluntary' body."

Others defended the organisation. "We've always needed a professional association and the IfL will be as good as its membership," another contributor wrote.

But the institute believes its first year of compulsory membership has seen a significant shift in opinion among FE teachers.

In its first members survey in 2008, nearly half the respondents said they joined only because their employers required them to. The second most popular reason was "government regulations".

One member typical of this group wrote: "I feel bullied into being a member and totally resent the existence of this organisation. I really do not understand how a government-sponsored scheme whose membership exists as a result of threats to their continuing career progression can hope to usefully serve that membership."

This year, however, the survey of more than 8,000 members found that 92 per cent believed the benefits of IfL membership represented at least "fair" value.

But those respondents had been receiving the benefits at no direct cost, with central government picking up the bill.

Ms Fazaeli said she supported the idea that the Ifl should be funded by its members in the long term, but said the deadline of 2012 was sooner than expected.

The announcement has also coincided with the first disciplinary hearing for a breach of the code of conduct, highlighting the institute's punitive role just as lecturers are being asked to pay.

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