industrial relations in colleges may not have had the best press over recent years, but the staff love their jobs.
That, at least, is what a major study undertaken by the Scottish Further Education Unit, has found. The majority of teaching and non-teaching staff who responded to the survey were "satisfied, motivated and unlikely to leave the sector", it said. "They are strong advocates for their institutions and the work they do."
"There will be a need to sustain and improve levels of satisfaction and motivation with an ageing workforce and with low staff turnover. There will be a need to increase the value of entrepreneurial and enterprising approaches, required to retain the acknowledged dynamism of the sector.
"There will be a need to build on the significance of line management arrangements, which has been identified by staff as a key factor in job satisfaction.
This demanding agenda is against a backdrop where college staff also feel they need to have more influence, not only over their own jobs, but also over the direction of their college. A strong drive behind continuing professional development, by the college and individuals, is seen as the key to moving things forward, particularly in plugging skills gaps so lecturers can keep up to speed with changing labour market needs.
The report points to the need for colleges to keep an eye on shifting and complex demands in industry so they have the right staff to respond. For example, there is expected to be a 7 per cent fall in the numbers working in skilled trades from 2003-08, but there will still be a demand for people with these skills. Colleges may have to compete increasingly for specialist staff, not just with other colleges but other employment sectors.
The study was carried out on behalf of the Association of Scotland's Colleges and the STUC, and funded by the Scottish Funding Council. It was based on interviews with senior college managers and also drew on questionnaires sent to 11 colleges to which 484 responses were received.
The results will be fed in to the Scottish Executive's review of colleges.
More detailed findings show a higher rate of job satisfaction among college staff than for other public sector employees: 70 per cent said they were happy in their work, compared to 58 per cent of people employed by the Scottish Executive who were polled last year. And 65 per cent of FE staff felt motivated.
These levels of contentment led 68 per cent to say they will stay in their current post or seek promotion over the next two to three years. Staff who said they might leave cited dissatisfaction with pay and promotion prospects as the chief reasons, with 43 per cent of reasons to do with "the organisational culture of the college".
Job satisfaction was measured against a number of factors, which include pay and job security as well as elements such as having a sense of achievement and scope for using initiative.
The amount of work people had to do in their jobs got a more mixed response: 40 per cent said it was about right, while 44 per cent said they had to do too much. These figures may account for the way in which people speak about their college: only 34 per cent speak highly of it to colleagues but 56 per cent talk it up to outsiders.
Scotland's falling population will have a considerable impact on further education colleges.
A report on student profiles for the Scottish Executive's review of colleges says the total number of enrolments will fall every year from now until 2020, from 393,468 to 369,248 - a 6.2 per cent drop.
But the impact will not be an even one. There will be a 12.6 per cent drop in the number of student enrolments on full-time FE courses between now and 2020; the decrease in part-time enrolments will be smaller, at 5.3 per cent.
The number of higher education students in FE colleges will fall by 10 per cent during the same period, the same decrease as for students in higher education institutions.
These results "emphasise that demography is an issue that could potentially have a significant effect on the number of higher education students and further education enrolments in upcoming years and action may have to be taken to combat its effect on participation in higher and further education."