It is a challenging time for further education as the government has woken up to the massive contribution the sector can make to the country’s future economic prospects.
The resulting emphasis on skills generation and employability will bring about considerable change over the next few years, some of which has already begun.
As the union for those who deliver further and adult education, UCU believes that some key funding changes would enable the sector to meet the new challenges better and preserve other facets of its existing sterling work.
Spending more on pay is the only way to ensure the sector can recruit and retain staff that can combine top-quality teaching ability and up-to-date industry knowledge to meet the skills agenda.
Between 2003 and 2005, all colleges should have introduced a two-year pay settlement providing a new harmonised pay spine and job families, and at long last progress for lecturers towards pay parity with schoolteachers. To date, 152 colleges have not implemented the spine.
Persistent low FE salaries (schoolteachers earn an estimated 10% more) mean that it is becoming increasingly difficult for colleges to recruit, especially in shortage subjects. With around 50% of current staff due to retire within ten years this is a dangerous situation.
We must avoid at all costs the situation where colleges find that they can only meet the financial demands of the new pay structures through redundancies or worsening of conditions of service for staff.
Staff working in adult and community learning and prison education must also get this new pay and career structure.
Workforce development is another key area where UCU would increase spending.
We welcomed the proposal in the recent white paper, Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances, that all staff should do 30 hours of professional development a year from September 2007. But UCU is concerned that without adequate funding, staff will end up doing this training in their own time. We cannot afford to allow continuous professional development to be patchy, as the skills agenda will call for vocational teachers to continually update their industry knowledge, for example, through placements.
The new requirement for all staff to hold or be working towards a teaching qualification also requires more funding: in a small-scale survey UCU found that many colleges were denying staff this opportunity on financial grounds.
Giving part-time staff the option to move on to permanent contracts would be another priority area for increased funding for UCU. Around one-third of further education staff is employed on a casual basis. Research in 200 found that between 27% and 33% of part-timers indicated that they would prefer to work on a permanent basis. In his review of FE, Sir Andrew Foster noted that casualisation “creates a fragmented workforce and makes staff development and organizational transformation more difficult to manage”.
Where FE staff are involved in providing higher education, we strongly believe that they should have the same terms and conditions as higher education teaching staff regarding paid time for scholarship. This is to enable staff to keep up with their subject, and keep abreast of technological change. We would make funding specifically available for this.
While UCU recognises the importance of the skills agenda for FE, we firmly believe it should not be at the expense of other highly valued work around widening participation. UCU would like to see funding for adult education maintained at a level that would mean all adult learners have a wide choice of courses, regardless of their age, prior educational achievement, and ability to pay.
We believe that the government has drawn an overly simplistic and unrealistic dividing line between courses that lead to jobs and courses that don”t, resulting in the loss of around 500,000 places on adult education courses.
The government argues that learners, or their employers, must pay more for courses that are deemed not to lead to greater skills and employability, and to this end is raising the proportion of fees they must pay from 37.5% to 50%.
We believe low-income learners will not be able to afford such steep rises and we do not think employers will step in to breach the shortfall without a range of new legal and fiscal measures that will place greater training responsibilities on them. We would fund these measures where necessary but most wouldn”t cost anything. They include: levies or training tax credits, or a training tax on employers; a provision in the Companies Act which obliges companies to tell shareholders what they spend on training and workforce development; a legal right to paid educational leave for employees; the inclusion of education and training on the list of matters over which recognised unions can collectively bargain; education and training committees in each workplace made up of union learning representatives and management (built on the model of health and safety committees); and allocated places on all learning and skills bodies locally and regionally for two trade union learning representatives.
The government says that the net loss of adult education places will only be 250,000 thanks to the introduction of its new Train to Gain scheme that will target older learners through the workplace. This scheme will see a layer of “brokers” act as intermediaries matching up employers to course providers. UCU does not see the need for the brokerage service and would give this funding to colleges to employ their own outreach workers to go out to workplaces and match employees up with courses.
The LSC has been restructured saving £40m in management and running costs. UCU favours a continuing reduction in bureaucracy in FE and the re-direction of resources to the frontline.
UCU firmly believes that overall the FE budget needs to be increased. Between 2004/5 and 2007/8, funding for further education in England (LSC) will rise by only 9.5%, while funding for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (as was) is set to grow by 30.6%.
If we are serious about developing a further education sector that is able to deliver the skills programme to make the country competitive, we need extra money to do this. We recommend that an investigation takes place – similar to work which has been recently undertaken in the higher education sector – into the resource and capital needs of further education in the UK over the next 10 years to determine the level at which expenditure will need to rise.
Paul Mackney, Joint General Secretary, University and College Union.
Next week: Star Awards Winner Robert Randall continues the debate on the £11 billion FE question, exclusively to FE News
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