Negotiations started today as lecturers and managers tried to break the deadlock in a dispute that has seen a series of one-day strikes at Newcastle college.
The lecturers' union Natfhe has been taking action in protest against what it regards as excessively long hours imposed by the college's principal, Jackie Fisher, who was awarded the CBE in last week's honours (see above).
Members have also demanded implementation of the nationally-agreed pay deal, which has still to be put into practice in many colleges across the country.
The union, which has staged seven one-day walk-outs since February, says it is now in talks with Newcastle college under the supervision of the arbitration service, Acas.
In a joint statement, the college and Natfhe said: "The college executive and Natfhe branch officers have agreed to use the services of Acas to try to resolve the trade dispute.
"Both sides welcome this step forward and, as a gesture of good faith, Natfhe has agreed to suspend any further strike action to allow these talks to proceed. Both sides welcome the opportunity to resolve the dispute and hope that an amicable agreement can be found."
Natfhe says lecturers at the college were being expected to increase their teaching hours from 24 to 30 per week.
The pay deal - thrashed out between unions and the Association of Colleges - agreed that lecturers would get two 3 per cent pay rises in 2003-4 and 2004-5 as well as a new salary structure, leading to further increases.
The deal was expected to make significant progress towards closing the pay gap between lecturers and schoolteachers. The gap is believed to be around 10 per cent, although there are no precise national figures for lecturers'
Many colleges have refused to meet the terms of the deal, which is not binding on them.
Jon Bryan, secretary of the Natfhe branch at Newcastle college, said: "It is pleasing for us that the college has agreed to our request to resolve this through using the services and experience that Acas can offer.
"We hope that these talks will bring a resolution to this dispute."