Lecturers are being urged to take action after rejecting a pay offer which would have failed to narrow the gap with schoolteachers. Joe Clancy reports
College lecturers are to be called out on a nationwide strike in November after rejecting a 2.8 per cent pay offer by employers.
Union officials say they object to the pay offer from the Association of Colleges being less than the 3.25 per cent increase awarded to schoolteachers.
Natfhe, the lecturers' union, had claimed a 7 per cent rise to narrow the pay gap between colleges and schools, which is estimated at between 7 and 10 per cent.
Barry Lovejoy, Natfhe's head of colleges, said a national ballot would be held in October for a national strike by colleges in mid-November. A "yes" vote could lead to an indefinite walk-out, leaving colleges in the grip of the biggest outbreak of industrial action since they left local education authority control in 1993.
Mr Lovejoy said: "The union is confident this will have support among members. This offer is a step backwards after we have made some progress in the past two years on narrowing the pay gap between college lecturers and school teachers.
"However, the majority of lecturers have still not received last year's pay award in full and this offer does nothing to address that issue. The impact on most colleges is that lecturers' pay falls somewhere between 7 and 10 per cent below schoolteachers.
"If this Government is serious about implementing its skills strategy, it needs to act now to provide the funds to deal with this pay crisis and avoid another round of industrial action in further education."
The national strike call comes after a year of strife across the country during which lecturers at dozens of colleges staged one-day action in protest against a failure to implement last year's pay deal - which was supposed to have been agreed as part of a two-year settlement from 2003-5.
Natfhe branches at several colleges already plan to stage strikes in September over the failure to implement this deal.
The two-year deal included a 3 per cent rise in 2003-4, and a second 3 per cent rise in 2004-5, coupled with the introduction of a shorter eight-point pay scale for qualified lecturers.
So far just 90 colleges, or 34 per cent, have implemented the deal.
The union fears failure to achieve pay parity with schools will mean colleges struggle to recruit new teachers to replace an ageing workforce.
It claims 50 per cent of teaching staff are due to retire within the next decade.
The AoC says Natfhe's "regrettable" decision to strike is not being followed by the other unions with which it is negotiating - the Association for College Management, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Unison, and the GMB.
Sue Dutton, the AoC's deputy chief executive, said: "We have put forward as reasonable an offer as we can within the current financial climate in which member colleges operate."
Unions' concerns over the pay gap have been deepened this month with the publication of a report by the Learning and Skills Development Agency which says schools get 13 per cent more funding than colleges per student for teaching the same 16-18 age group. The AoC has joined unions in lobbying for more money for colleges.
As well as being forced to manage with less money for teenage students, it says expansion in this area has forced colleges to plunder other budgets, including adult education.
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