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Unions reach deal over IfL fees

They are capped for two years at annual rate of pound;38

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They are capped for two years at annual rate of pound;38

Unions and the Institute for Learning (IfL) have struck a deal that would cap the professional body's compulsory membership fees at pound;38 a year for the next two years.

The agreement marks the conclusion of several weeks of talks instigated by FE minister John Hayes, who brought together unions, employers and the IfL's leadership to try to prevent a boycott of the institute. This followed a revolt by lecturers, who have been forced to pay for mandatory IfL membership for the first time this year, just as Government subsidy has ended and fees have risen by 120 per cent.

Under the deal, the fee could rise again in 2013, but the institute has agreed that it will not exceed the pound;68 a year charge it had proposed earlier.

Mr Hayes welcomed the agreement, saying: "Upholding a professional, qualified and regulated teaching workforce in further education is vitally important to the health of the sector, as is an independent, professional membership body that is both accountable and relevant to its members."

The IfL's original proposals would have cost members pound;68 for the first 18 months' membership; the same fee will now pay for two years if members are prepared to pay the full cost up front.

The deal also allows for the payment of lower fees by FE teachers earning less than pound;16,000 a year and includes a pledge to review the IfL's work on continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure that it is relevant.

But final resolution of the dispute will depend on a ballot of members of the University and College Union (UCU). At its annual conference last week, delegates voted for a boycott of the institute, despite the ongoing talks and the promise of an imminent resolution. However, the wider membership may take a less hard-line view.

UCU head of further education Barry Lovejoy said: "These have been tough talks and our negotiators have worked very hard to reach a settlement. Although not perfect, significant progress has been made.

"We understand there are very strong feelings in the sector around IfL and we are particularly pleased that as well as getting members significant fee reductions, we have secured a review of the way IfL works, involving the unions, employers and government. We will be working hard to ensure that the organisation is accountable and relevant to its members."

Fellow union the ATL regards the outcome of the talks as consistent with its conference resolutions and the expectations of its FE advisory group, so it will not need to ballot its members.

Norman Crowther, the ATL's national official for post-16 education, said that it was now important that the IfL underwent reform and provided relevant support for CPD, as well as improving governance to make it more responsive to its members.

"We need a realistic approach to the issues. This was approaching (them) from a position of crisis rather than the proper reflection which is what we always try to do," he said.

IfL chair Sue Crowley said: "We are pleased to have reached agreement about continuing to develop IfL as the independent professional body for teachers and trainers."

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