Why 1% pay rise could mean college staff lose their jobs

19th February 2016 at 00:00
Providers may be forced to make redundancies to fund national offer dubbed ‘unreasonable’ by unions

Most colleges will not be able to afford to give all staff a 1 per cent pay rise for the next academic year and many have not ruled out a raft of job cuts in order to pay for the increase, TESS can reveal.

In an exclusive survey, 10 out of 19 colleges said that paying all staff 1 per cent more would leave the institution in a deficit unless budgets were reduced elsewhere.

Only three colleges confirmed that they had enough cash to pay for the increase without any other changes.

Unions said that it was unfair to threaten job cuts in exchange for a fair pay deal, and accused colleges of squirrelling away funds that could be used to fund salary rises.

Call for equal salaries

An offer including a 1 per cent pay rise for all staff was made by management last autumn, as a result of a return to national pay bargaining in FE in 2014.

The unions representing support staff in the Scottish FE sector accepted the offer, but the EIS-FELA union, which represents lecturers, is currently balloting its members on whether to take industrial action over the issue.

It said that plans by umbrella body Colleges Scotland to “impose” the pay award would widen the differences in pay in the sector. The offer of a 1 per cent increase was an “unreasonable, inequitable and non-agreed pay settlement”, the union’s president John Kelly added.

College leaders have long argued that equalising the salaries of people doing the same job – so that everybody was paid at the highest current rate – would not be affordable.

But the TESS survey indicates that finances are so tight at most colleges that even the 1 per cent increase will not be without consequences.

However, unions have contested this. EIS-FELA claimed last year that colleges had transferred £7 million in surpluses to arm’s-length foundations in 2014-2015, to avoid clawback from the government.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We are aware, for example, of the funds that have been set aside in arm’s-length trusts and the scale of senior management payouts is well documented, also.

“We do not accept any attempt to pose the threat of job cuts against the right to a fair pay deal – given the scale of lecturer posts already lost, our members are rightly sceptical of such scare tactics from management.”

Mr Flanagan added that rather than threatening to impose a pay settlement, Colleges Scotland should return to the negotiating table with an offer that might avoid the need for a damaging strike across the sector.

Financial stability ‘paramount’

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, stressed that financial sustainability was “paramount”. She added that addressing pay inequality throughout the sector could not “be done overnight, nor in isolation to conditions of service.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said that any ballot for industrial action was disappointing, and strike action was in the interests of no one, including students and their families.



Colleges responded to the survey


Colleges that said they could not afford a 1 per cent pay increase without running a deficit


Colleges said that they could afford the pay increase


College budget in 2015-16


College budget in 2010-11

Over £7m

Amount colleges transferred to arm’s-length foundations in 2014-15 (source: EIS)

How colleges responded

A number of colleges told TESS that job cuts were possible, with one even stating that it could not rule out compulsory redundancies. Colleges also said they would be prepared to consider changes to conditions of service.

“Implementing the 1 per cent, especially backdated to April 2015, has meant that we will have to act now to reduce other costs to avoid a deficit for 2015-16,” one college said.

Another added: “The college would have to consider a range of options, which may include changes to conditions of service and voluntary severance. Initially it would not consider compulsory redundancies but this could not be ruled out.”

Three colleges said that they had budgeted for a pay increase for staff. Other colleges either said that they could not comment or referred to a statement from Colleges Scotland, which states that the 1 per cent pay rise will be “extremely challenging” for all colleges to meet given the tight financial resources available.

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