Fury as IfL squirrels away pound;2m in reserves

11th March 2011 at 00:00
Critics warn stockpiled funds could be used to survive fees boycott

The Institute for Learning (IfL) has built up reserves of over pound;2 million which could be used to help it withstand a boycott by lecturers angry over the doubling of membership fees, its accounts show.

The institute says fees have to increase to pound;68 from pound;30 a year to account for the extra cost of collecting cash from members instead of receiving a block Government grant.

But its financial returns show that last year it made a surplus of nearly pound;500,000, bringing its reserves to pound;2 million, with expenditure at pound;5.6 million.

FE minister John Hayes said he was unable to prevent the IfL, which every teacher at a publicly funded college or training provider must join by law, from setting fees at whatever level it chose.

IfL accounts say it is deliberately building up reserves and aims to have six months of expenditure banked by 2012. Its reserves have grown more quickly than expected, however, exceeding the objective of four months' expenditure in the bank a year earlier than forecast, in March last year.

The decision to raise fees provoked outrage from many lecturers who believe they receive few benefits from the institute: 15,000 have now signed the University and College Union petition in protest, and the union has warned that it will consider a boycott.

Lecturer Martin Ellison, on a Facebook group opposed to the fees increase, warned that the cash reserves may be a weapon in the battle with members. He said: "Even if no one pays it will take some time before the IfL has to start thinking about its future, and the directors have to face up to their legal duties in terms of solvency."

IfL's member surveys say the majority of members value its benefits. Despite its cash reserves, the institute says it needs the fee increase to improve its services, with printed professional journals and more events and conferences.

It also says that the increase will help it fund an increased number of professional standards cases, and a sharp increase in the numbers gaining the professional qualifications it awards when they become compulsory for new teachers next year.

The IfL said its board approved the level of reserves and added it was obliged to maintain a general fund to ensure it could cope with sudden falls in income or increases in costs.

Chair Sue Crowley said: "IfL must become self-funded, and is determined the fees charged should be fair and kept to the lowest level needed to deliver the services, benefits and support members rightly expect from their professional body."

Mr Hayes, speaking for the first time about the dispute, said he was prepared to meet the IfL to raise lecturers' concerns, but added the level of fees was not a matter for ministers.

"An independent organisation has to come to a judgment as to the fees that it charges. IfL made it very clear to me that they had consulted widely among stakeholders," he said.

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