The issue has flared up at Edinburgh's Telford College where the Further Education Lecturers' Association claims that lecturers are being made redundant because instructors are cheaper. It suggests this is to reduce costs and pay for the college's move to a pound;60 million campus on the shores of the Forth, due to be completed next summer.
The FELA branch at Telford says the plan is to reduce the lecturing complement by 87 between August last year and August 2006, with up to 37 instructors recruited over the same period.
But the college hotly disputes this interpretation of its restructuring plans. Greg Irving, depute principal, said that the aim was to introduce a more student-oriented service and free lecturers to spend more time on course design and curriculum development.
"Throughout this restructuring process, management has worked closely with the staff unions and strenuously denies any allegations that agreements have been breached," Mr Irving said.
Some lecturers believe that the moves at Telford may be the tip of the iceberg and that managements across the country are considering how to reduce lecturer numbers. They cite the recent report from the Scottish Further Education Unit on The Professional Lecturer in 2014 (TESS, March 5), which suggests that the future lecturing staff might consist of lecturers and "para-teachers".
Telford lecturers claim management is now trying to blur the distinction between instructors and lecturers. They say that Mr Irving sent out an e-mail on the use of instructors, making clear that there should be no distinction between "underpinning knowledge" and practical work.
Jacquie Bell, the union's branch secretary at Telford, said that lecturers had initially agreed to the employment of instructors on the basis that they would be used for demonstrations in practical subjects and confined to work and assessment at SVQ level 2.
The union then called a ballot following the decision of the college to advertise for an instructor to assess at SVQ level 4 and a failure to give assurances on the future deployment of instructors. The results will be put to the finance and general purposes committee of its parent body, the Educational Institute of Scotland, today (Friday). The committee will decide whether to recommend a ballot on industrial action.
The picture nationally is less contentious, Marian Healy, FE and HE secretary of the EIS, says. "In other areas, instructors are being introduced by a process of negotiation. They are undertaking duties that will not normally undermine the work of lecturers, but will enhance it by providing support for students that would be demanding of lecturers time."