The union that represents low-paid college support staff has weighed into the row over the Institute for Learning's (IfL) fee hike, claiming that its members are being unfairly treated.
Public sector union Unison has reacted angrily to news that its members face the increase from pound;30 to pound;68 a year, following the recent backlash from lecturers about it.
Learning support staff who voluntarily joined the IfL when it was free are now receiving letters asking them to pay the increased cost, but their unions are calling for clarification on which FE staff need to join.
Among the college staff who have been asked to pay up are childcare assessors, who earn pound;13,000 a year on average, NVQ assessors (who earn pound;13,500), learner progress coaches (on pound;14,500) and art technicians (pound;16,000).
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "It seems there is utter confusion about who is actually required under the regulations to be a member of the IfL.
"Our members are told by colleges that they cannot be classed as teachers yet, but when it comes to IfL membership fees, they are told that what they actually do is teaching - there is no distinction between teaching and less well paid associate roles when it comes to IfL fee rates.
"The whole system is a mess. The only sensible thing for the Government to do is to suspend the requirement to register with IfL while they get round the table with the unions and employers to review the regulations and the statutory requirement to join IfL."
According to FE regulations agreed in 2007, providers with Skills Funding Agency (SFA) contracts are bound to employ IfL members in "full or associate teaching and training roles".
Qualified teacher learning and skills and associate teacher learning and skills statuses also depend on IfL membership.
Last week, FE Focus revealed that the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) had decided to boycott the IfL. Staff at the major adult education provider were told that the legal requirement had been "suspended" due to fears that it could lose a "significant" number of employees.
WEA general secretary Richard Bolsin said: "Our tutors have raised this with us in greater numbers than they have ever raised anything before."
The University and College Union's petition against the fee increase has been signed by 17,000 people, and members have been advised not to pay.
The union is to hold a ballot over boycotting the IfL membership fee in April, if colleges do not agree to foot the bill for their employees.
The increase has been criticised by lecturers who have questioned what benefits they receive from IfL membership.
The institute says the fee increase will cover the cost of collecting cash from members instead of receiving a block grant from the Government.
IfL chief executive Toni Fazaeli said: "It is crystal clear in the Government's regulations that the requirement to be a member of IfL is for those in full or associate teaching roles, including teaching, training or assessor roles. The government subsidy for IfL membership has been for those covered by the regulations and the reflection of these in the SFA funded providers.
He continued: "Individuals that were not in a teaching, training or assessor role should have paid the IfL membership fee themselves in previous years, or their employer may have chosen to do this on their behalf. If support staff were members of IfL last year, they will have received a letter in early February about renewing their membership."
Stephen Jones, page 6.