'Rat-trap' colleges

24th March 2000 at 00:00
PERCEPTION is everything, and so the discontent registered by further education lecturers in a survey for the Educational Institute of Scotland (FE Focus, page V) has to be taken seriously. There may be doubts about whether staff are as sleep deprived and chronically stressed as 1,500 of them claim. Comparing their life with that of rats in an overcrowded cage is absurd.

But the fact that such a high incidence of problems has been registered and is taken seriously by the union means that outsiders will be convinced all is not well in the colleges. Admitting unqualified students to courses simply because funding depends on student numbers is cited as a cause of stress. It makes observers uneasy about standards. The level of industrial unrest, unparalleled elsewhere in the education system, is another disturbing indicator, reinforcing the results of the survey.

Management is put in a tricky position. For years it has argued that the colleges have been underfunded nd forced to make hard decisions. The Executive has responded positively and the first round of cash allocations by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, due next month and sure to be more readily comprehensible than the previous efforts of civil servants, is eagerly awaited.

The lecturers' complaints are ammunition for the colleges' case. But they are also an indictment of management practice and therefore bound to be disputed. Remedying past slacknesses and adjusting colleges to modern conditions, it will be said, cannot come painfree.

FE is a devolved system, more so than the strike-hit new universities where pay settlements are still made across the board. Tackling the justifiable complaints of FE staff is a matter for individual principals. Some have more sensitive antennae than others, just as some have more cash in hand. The Executive will certainly look for a less fevered atmosphere if the temperature is taken again a year or two on.

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