Union members unimpressed by promises of an agreement on lower fees for the Institute for Learning (IfL) have voted to boycott the professional body.
Talks aimed at reducing the proposed 120 per cent fee increase for compulsory membership are nearing a conclusion, but University and College Union (UCU) members still voted at the FE sector conference last weekend to encourage lecturers to refuse to renew their IfL membership.
FE Focus reported last week that unions, the institute and colleges were confident of reaching an agreement to lower fees soon, although the IfL itself was concerned that a refusal to pay by some members could make a reduced charge unsustainable.
Members rejected the IfL's claims that it offered "unique and valuable benefits" for lecturers, such as registering the 30 hours a year of compulsory continuing professional development (CPD) and setting professional standards. They instead branded the institute "a burden on the sector".
The motion condemned the fee being demanded for the first time this year, after the Government has ended its subsidy of the IfL, saying the equivalent body for schools was being abolished while the gap between FE lecturers' and schoolteachers' pay was still growing.
Lynne Western from The Manchester College said lecturers on the advisory council had tried to warn the IfL of the likely backlash against its fee proposals.
She said: "While we had a voice, they had no ears. When the fees were first announced, the advisory council tried to make representations that this was going to go down like a lead balloon.
"Like many women, I enjoy retail therapy, but on this occasion I think I've been sold the emperor's new clothes."
UCU delegates voted to put up a slate of candidates for the IfL's next advisory council elections, so they could ensure members' views were better represented within the organisation. They also urged college management not to make membership of the IfL a condition of employment or promotion.
Other members suggested a loophole by arguing that the legal requirement was to "register" with the IfL, which did not necessarily mean paying for membership, although the institute and employers have so far regarded the legal requirements for registration and membership as identical.
The UCU motion takes a harder line than the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which has backed the institute as a compulsory membership body despite raising concerns over the "exorbitant" fees.
At its conference earlier this year, the ATL voted to oppose the fee increase and to urge the IfL to provide support in CPD that did not simply replicate the monitoring that colleges do themselves.
The motion came as the negotiating parties issued a statement predicting a resolution to the fees debate soon.
It said: "Recent joint discussions between the IfL, the Association of Colleges and trade unions, facilitated by the minister (John Hayes), have been positive and the collective belief is that we are near a resolution.
"When all parties have reached a recommended way forward, which is anticipated to be shortly, we will publish a joint statement, and the IfL will communicate with members and set out an updated timetable for the completion of membership renewals."
Barry Lovejoy, UCU's head of colleges, said union members would be fully consulted on the proposal that emerges from the talks.