New figures from the University and College Union have revealed the stark impact that relatively low pay increases have had on teaching staff in recent years.
In a letter sent to college principals today, Andrew Harden, head of further education at the UCU, said that public sector pay had now become “an issue of national discussion and one that those on all sides of politics accept needs to be addressed”. Unions will be meeting with the Association of Colleges later this month to discuss the unions' 2017-18 claim on pay and conditions.
“It is clear that staff in FE have suffered more than others in the public sector when it comes to keeping up with inflation. This cannot continue,” Mr Harden added.
Lecturer pay falling behind
The figures supplied to Tes by the UCU showed that while the cost of living, expressed through the Retail Price Index (RPI), had increased by 27.6 per cent since 2009, pay in FE colleges had gone up by only 4 per cent over that time. This, the union said, meant that FE staff had suffered a real-terms drop of 23.6 per cent in their pay.
Mr Harden told Tes that for the most experienced lecturers, this represented around £8,000 in lost annual income. “People are actually making the kind of calls where they love what they do in FE, but they can’t afford to do it,” he said.
He pointed out that, in recent years, only a relatively small proportion of colleges had followed the recommendation that came out of pay negotiations between unions and the AoC, so teachers at those colleges could have fallen even further behind.
“We are reaching a point where everybody across the sector accepts this is an issue, because we are struggling to recruit and retain the people that make FE work,” said Mr Harden.
According to the most recent workforce survey by the AoC, the top three reasons for recruitment difficulties across all college staff included staff “looking for more pay than college could offer”. The same survey said that the average annual salary for college lecturers was £30,182.
Justin Wynne, a lecturer at Sussex Coast College, says that “in the last three or four years, what you would consider normal for most people in the working world has become difficult for us in FE”. “Holidays, the number of presents under the Christmas tree – it is the little things,” he explains.
Mr Wynne says he loves his job, but could envisage the situation reaching “a critical point where I either have to get a second job stacking shelves to support my job, or find something else to do”.
And one lecturer from a London college tells Tes that pay has even affected crucial life decisions, including the choice to only have one child.
This is an edited version of an article in the 8 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.