New blood essential for union vigour
Paul Mackney, former joint general secretary at the University and College Union (UCU), has an expression for a certain type of all-too- familiar figure: "male, pale and stale".
This is the rather cheeky description of the band of middle-aged white men - whose number includes Mr Mackney, as he would be the first to admit - which dominates so many aspects of life. It was often used when talking about equality, and was not generally used in reference to the union's own rank-and-file membership.
But it may as well have been - at least as far as the "stale" bit goes. The UCU's membership survey, as we report this week, suggests that the union is struggling to attract younger lecturers into its ranks.
Many newcomers to FE have arrived from the private sector where they have not been in a union. This makes them harder to recruit than trainee schoolteachers whose lack of experience of the world of work leaves them flush with the idealism of youth. Thus, a radical approach is needed to ensure newcomers are being recruited if the union is to maintain its strength.
Membership of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the compulsory body for FE teachers, will make many feel that membership of the UCU is an unnecessary expense. Why should they join two professional bodies? This question must be answered if the union is to win over future generations.
The union has a public relations challenge on its hands to explain the difference between the IfL, a membership body which already includes all lecturers, and the UCU, which must remain close to its customers to survive.