Carnegie College lecturers went on strike yesterday in a dispute over the use of unqualified staff to teach prisoners in the east of Scotland.
Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members claim the college is proposing cost-cutting measures, which would reduce the number of qualified lecturers delivering prison education and have a damaging effect on the education and rehabilitation of prisoners.
Carnegie College was awarded a new contract earlier this year to provide education services for seven prisons in the east of Scotland, based in Edinburgh, Polmont, Inverness, Peterhead, Perth and Dundee.
EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith claimed the college was trying to cut back on costs and cut corners on what it had pledged to provide.
"The EIS would urge Carnegie College to reconsider its plans, and to recommit to an appropriate level of education provision in prisons, delivered by properly-qualified professional lecturing staff," he said.
It was "interesting to note that the other college (Motherwell) contracted to supply prison education - in the west of Scotland - continues to employ fully-qualified lecturing staff for its prison education programmes", he added.
EIS assistant secretary Ken Wimbor has written to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, urging him to intervene. The EIS was seriously concerned, said Mr Wimbor, at the effect the arrangement could have on his members' jobs, terms and conditions. Many of them were facing the threat of compulsory redundancy if they refused to accept lower pay rates and inferior conditions of service, he added.
The EIS was also concerned about disparities in the quality of education provision across the country as a result of the use of unqualified teaching staff.
More strike action could follow if no agreement in the dispute is reached.
Geoff Fenlon, principal and chief executive of Carnegie College, said: "A multi-professional approach which places even greater focus on the learner has been designed to provide higher staff-to-student ratios, with learning taking place in an increased range of locations not just the classroom."
He added that this approach had been recognised in other educational settings and had been shown to be an effective way of improving quality and results.
College co-operation barrier comes down
A major barrier to college co-operation will be removed next year when a VAT exemption for cost-sharing becomes law, writes Julia Belgutay.
HM Revenue and Customs published draft legislation this week, to be implemented in 2012, which includes a mandatory VAT exemption for businesses and organisations, including FE colleges, who form groups to achieve cost savings and economies of scale.
Currently, colleges face a 20 per cent VAT charge on all services bought in from other colleges, or through cross-college service provision.
The legislative changes will remove these costs for co-operation in areas such as management information systems, data analysis and human resources staff at a time when colleges are being urged to work together more closely and are preparing for massive structural change, including regional mergers.
"The barrier has been that once you enter into shared service agreements across a whole range of things, whilst you might make savings as an institution because you are more efficient and you have a better service between you, you actually won't make any savings, because you then have to pay 20 per cent on top of what you were paying before because of VAT," explained John Spencer, convener of the Principals' Convention of Scotland's Colleges.
"That is why this is the key to unlocking the shared-services opportunities that exist between public sector bodies which are exempt from VAT. This will mean we will be able to enter into more cost-effective shared-service arrangements between institutions, and within regions, as the regional model develops," he added.