Only resolve will close the pay gap

18th April 2008 at 01:00

Once again, lecturers are preparing to travel along what to many will feel like a well-worn path to industrial action over pay (full story, page 3).

The comparison with schoolteachers' pay is a loose one - with national figures on lecturers' salaries non-existent, like a lot of other information needed for a properly planned further education system.

Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear that there is a gap.

More worrying still is the gap between lecturers' pay and the rate earned by tradespeople being asked to give up the day job for teaching. Tradespeople who retrain as lecturers are, in a sense, double-qualified: in their vocation, and in the noble craft of teaching.

Much of the current unrest is the result of colleges failing to implement nationally agreed rises for lecturers, claiming they can't afford to do so. But in many cases, this is just a question of priorities. Colleges willingly subsidise places for 14- to 16-year-olds under the "increased flexibility" policy in order to fulfil government policy objectives, while at the same time pleading poverty when it comes to lecturers' pay.

But who is being flexible? Not the Government, not the Learning and Skills Council, and certainly not schools - none of which meet the full cost to colleges.

Increased flexibility is a golden opportunity for the UCU to point out the ludicrous situation where FE lecturers are rescuing the education of teenagers at a lower rate of reward than they would enjoy in the very institutions which, for what ever reason, have failed to cut the mustard with this age group - schools.

UCU lecturers could have made a stand on this point. In Torquay in 2002, Natfhe, which later became the UCU, voted to boycott increased flexibility until lecturers had achieved pay parity, a move which would have hit schools and therefore had much more chance of being noticed by politicians and the public. But of course that motion, passed on a balmy summer's day by the seaside, was never acted upon.

A new sense of resolve over pay is needed by staff and employers. Lecturers and colleges have bent over backwards for the skills training agenda, with scant regard for their own reward.

They should bend no further.

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