FE is tearing itself apart

16th May 1997 at 01:00
The hundreds of lecturers and teachers who marched through Motherwell on April 19 were testimony to the growing crisis engulfing the further education service. The marchers had turned out to demonstrate their support to staff at Motherwell College who have been under sustained attack from management. A management restructuring which has been imposed without negotiatio n, has resulted in nine senior members of staff - all placed in post by the present management and all with years of loyal service to the college - having to apply for only four new posts which were advertised internally within the college. Three of the posts were filled initially, but a few days later the fourth was given to someone from a college in England without a public advertisement ever having been placed and in the absence of any proper leeting or interview arrangements.

Disregarding formal college agreements on salary conservation, the college then effectively demoted all the senior staff who had not been appointed to the new posts. They lost thousands of pounds in salary overnight. The successful candidates for the new senior posts, meanwhile, were appointed, in the first instance, for a six-month probationary period.

The dispute has now widened significantl y. Management has threatened compulsory redundancies and indicated that there will be no salary increase for academic staff this year. Conditions of service have come under attack with management unilaterally imposing increased class contact for all staff and attempting to impose dual appointments whereby lecturers would be forced to work evening sessions as part of their normal working week and without any additional payment. Formal agreements on holidays have been broken, with management attempting to pressure staff into working during agreed holiday periods.

In recent weeks the director of finance has resigned in uncertain circumstances - the third to do so in less than three years. The college branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland is now claiming gross mismanagement of the college's human and financial resources and is calling for a full inquiry by the Scottish Office. The branch claims that there is a climate of fear and intimidation within the college caused by the authoritarian style of management.

Sadly, Motherwell is but one example of conflict within the further education service. At Inverness College, management is attempting to impose a wide-ranging package of cuts including 50 full-time equivalent redundancies. Jobs have been lost at Fife College, although staff resistance there forced management to abandon plans for compulsory redundancies. Jewel and Esk Valley College, the first to impose compulsory redundancies, is threatening to impose yet another round. Compulsory redundancy is also being threatened at Perth College. Management at Lauder College has imposed a new grade of "associate lecturer", a post with up to 30 hours' weekly class contact on a salary ranging from scale point 0 to point 2.

At Falkirk, where the EIS has been derecognised, management has imposed redundancy on all its part-time staff and has contracted with a private agency for the provision of all part-time staffing. The agency has hired the former part-time employees of the college, but on agency pay and conditions and with the loss of superannua tion and most employment rights.Aberdeen College has done the same and it now appears that management at Motherwell is in discussion with a private agency as well.

When staff at Moray College wrote to members of the board of management protesting that a member of the board who owns a private agency had contracted with the college to provide part-time staff the letters were intercepted by senior management. They were only passed on after staff had made a complaint to the police. Management at Moray College has scrapped the recognition and procedure agreement with the staff unions, is now threatenin g to impose compulsory redundancies, has refused to offer a consolidated salary award for last year (the claim should have been settled on April 1 last year) and has indicated that conditions of service will worsen.

The root cause of many of these difficulties is underfunding. Since financial year 1995-96 cumulative cuts to the national budget for the sector have amounted to 7.7 per cent in real terms and further cuts are planned for the next two years. Last year, student numbers were up by 9 per cent nationally. Clearly, plans to increase student numbers, which the sector has so far delivered, cannot be implemented for much longer when the colleges face such significant cuts in resources.

Many staff take the view that management is only too happy to use funding cuts as the excuse for attacking jobs, conditions of service and pay and imposing an iron discipline. That is certainly the view at Motherwell, which received one of the largest increases in grant-in-aid this year. The management's excuse for confrontation is that the Scottish Office insists the college deficit be eliminated in one year - a claim that runs contrary to Scottish Office policy and one which the management has now been forced to abandon. All colleges are facing financial difficulties, yet many have been able to maintain reasonable arrangements with the staff unions and to operate on the basis of negotiation and agreement. Staff wonder why management in the hard-line colleges have failed to do so.

The problem of macho mismanagement is compounded by the current composition of college boards of management which are dominated by business people often from the private sector, who have little understanding of, or sympathy for, the public education service. Their attitudes, too, sometimes encourage managements to embark upon confrontation with staff.

Talks are to take place with the Association of Scottish Colleges with a view, among other things, to evolving a common approach to the problem of underfunding. Writing off the accumulated deficits of colleges would relieve a great deal of pressure on the system. The funding formula also requires reform and the way in which some colleges are "safety-netted" needs to be re-examined. The restitution of an adequately resourced restructurin g fund would allow colleges to respond to changes in provision without having to resort to sacking staff.

Boards of management could be reformed and made more democratically accountable at virtually no cost. That would do much to promote partnership and co-operation and curtail the excesses of some college managers. Finally, any plan to get large numbers of the long-term unemployed back into work will require a significant role for the further education sector. Providing job training and education for apprentices, we should not forget, used to be the lifeblood of further education. The question is whether the new Government will provide sufficient resources.

l Next week: a management view.

Joe Eyre is president of the College Lecturers' Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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