Strikes loom over college sector as grants confirmed

20th May 2016 at 00:00
Tensions run high as college leaders admit grants are not sufficient to cover nationally agreed pay increases

A new funding settlement will not pay for proposed salary increases for all staff, college principals have said, as support staff threaten strike action – claiming that they are being treated as “second-class citizens”.

College leaders have questioned the viability of the new national bargaining process, given the lack of money available to fund the pay rises agreed.

Last week, the Scottish Funding Council said there would be a 1 per cent increase in all teaching grants which amounted to an additional £4 million for the sector.

However, it also revealed that the capital and maintenance grant would be cut from £20 million to £15.6 million for the 2016-17 financial year. The sector had hoped the final college grant allocations would be increased to account for the pay increase for all staff.

“In my view there is insufficient resource to cover the totality of the pay award,” one principal told TESS. “I would expect further strike action from staff.”

Another said the unexpected cut in capital funding was going to mean his college losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A leader at a different college went further, questioning whether, overall, the settlement even represented an increase in funding for his institution: “This announcement is, by definition, a cut in funding and therefore not enough to support a pay increase.”

Some college leaders suggested a more radical rethink may now be required. One said: “The decision to reintroduce national bargaining was not properly thought through.”

‘Derisory’ pay offer

A return to national bargaining was announced in 2013. This followed decades of negotiations at individual college level, which have led to disparities in pay and conditions.

Earlier this year, the EIS-FELA union, representing lecturers, and the three support staff unions agreed deals including a 1 per cent pay rise for all staff for 2015-16.

The EIS-FELA deal also included a rise of £450 for 2016-17. There was also a commitment to moving towards bringing pay rates for workers in similar jobs into line with each other.

However, Unison told TESS this week the offer to support staff of £230 for 2016-17 was “derisory” compared with the teaching staff settlement, and that employers had also failed to deliver on an agreement to bring the support staff leave package in line with that of teaching staff by 31 March 2016. Based on these concerns, the union was now considering industrial action over the package.

John Gallacher, Unison head of further education, said the union would not accept support staff being treated as “second-class citizens”. “We will fight for equal treatment, and industrial action looks likely,” he said.

In February, an exclusive TESS poll showed only three of the 19 colleges in Scotland felt they could afford the pay increase for 2015-16 without having to cut costs elsewhere.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said individual colleges would need to make their own decisions on how the 1 per cent increase is spent.

An SFC spokeswoman said: “We are continuing to work with colleges and have a budget for strategic funds which can be used to support college and regions with specific financial pressures where this is necessary.”



Increase in teaching grants to colleges

£4 m

Actual increase in teaching grants across Scotland

£4.4 m

The reduction in capital and maintenance grant

deal agreed by EIS-FELA union:

1% or £300

increase for 2015-16, plus £100 paid in April


pay rise for 2016-17

deal for support staff at time of print:

1% or £300

increase for 2015-16, plus £100

£230 pay rise for 2016-17

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