LECTURERS at Sheffield College who belong to the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education have voted by an overwhelming majority to strike, following the threat of compulsory redundancies.
Even branch officials were taken aback by the emphatic vote for industrial action. Of 420 members who voted - 72 per cent of membership - 367 favoured an indefinite strike from September 18 unless the threat is rescinded.
Sheffield College has been in turmoil since former principal Ken Ruddiman retired last November.
It was immediately placed in special measures by the Further Education Funding Council, and run temporarily by Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley College until August 31.
The result of NATFHE vote was announced last week as new principal John Taylor, formerly of Park Lane College, Leeds, arrived.
A review of FE in Sheffield conducted earlier this year by Sir George and Dr Terry Melia, chair of the Further Education Development Agency, recommended that 186 jobs be cut and staff contracts be re-negotiated to help ensure the college's viability.
So far, the union says, 115 applications for voluntary redundancy have been accepted as the college faces a major reorganisation.
The review claimed lecturers were not doing enough teaching, which was expensive for the college.
But NATFHE officials deny staff have had an easy ride.
"FE is being put through the mincer," said local organiser Jon Cowley. "Here, they want to save pound;3.6 million. But at Sheffield there is a union strong enough to fight. Ninety per cent of teaching staff are union members.
"Management will eithr have to cut a deal or see us out for weeks on end. People don't want to go out on strike because that will damage the students.
"But if the college is able to get away with this level of redundancies, the implications for staff morale, workloads and the time we can give students will be even more damaging. The whole redundancy process has been very badly handled," Mr Cowley said.
The strike decision comes in the middle of college enrolment which, despite demonstrations in the city by NATFHE members, was up 14 per cent when the process began last month. In the last academic year, the college had around 32,0000 full and part-time students and 1,660 staff.
While heavily criticised by FEFC inspectors and graded 4 (less than satisfactory) for management, quality assurance and governance, curriculum areas were all graded 2 or 3 (good or satisfactory).
The union was due to meet management late yesterday as The TES was going to press.
"We are disappointed that the union has taken this stand when we are still in the throes of consultation and there are scheduled meetings," said college spokesman Alan Biggin.
Mr Biggin declined to comment on the numbers who had accepted voluntary redundancy. "It makes things difficult for managers when unions seek to make public the agenda where the college would rather discuss things round the negotiating table," he said.
But any prospect of a U-turn on the redundancies seems unlikely. "Sir George Sweeney made clear his objectives for the college and John Taylor was appointed on the findings of the review and with the mandate of implementing them," said Mr Biggin.