Bill Wardle, principal of strike-threatened James Watt College, has come out fighting to confront critics of the way he has handled cost-cutting at the college. These critics now include the whole of the STUC, not just the lecturers' union (news, page four).
In a statement to The TES Scotland, Professor Wardle accused the Educational Institute of Scotland, the lecturers' union, of "consistently and persistently refusing to accept the evident need for modernisation".
He said consultation on potential redundancies and changes to staff contracts was necessary "to ensure that we are best placed to meet the challenges and opportunities arising within the further education sector and is aimed at strengthening both the financial management position and future well-being of the college".
Professor Wardle pointed out that the Scottish Funding Council requires all colleges to be financially stable by the end of July. "There is little prospect of additional funding being allocated to institutions facing financial difficulty," he said. "It is our responsibility, therefore, to confront these challenges head-on in order to ensure that we are fully prepared to take the necessary steps to improve our current situation and establish a firm base for future operations."
The college management has been criticised privately by some senior figures in FE for "taking its eye of the ball" in failing to anticipate changing student demand for courses, and Professor Wardle acknowledged in his statement that there are "areas of the curriculum where present staffing levels can no longer be sustained".
The college has been accused of attempting to accrue surpluses at the expense of lecturers' jobs. But Professor Wardle had a different translation: "This review of staffing resources, together with revised terms and conditions, will achieve more effective use and monitoring of resources, more scope to support areas of potential expansion and a more financially secure organisation which in turn will help us establish a stable platform for future development."
Professor Wardle said it was the management's "firm intention" to finish the consultation process before the enrolment of new students in August to avoid any adverse impact on their future course of study. The college was actually expanding the range of courses on offer.
He pointed out: "At the culmination of this consultation process, our academic staff will retain their position as the highest paid staff within the FE sector. We need to match this with a level of institutional resource deployment and performance that, at the very least, matches sector norms."
The latest official figures, for 2003-04, do not appear to put James Watt greatly out of line with "sector norms". Staff costs were 65 per cent of total expenditure compared with the FE average in Scotland of 66 per cent.