Some 26,000 lecturers in over 220 further education colleges were set to strike on Wednesday of this week in a pay dispute that goes to the heart of the lack of funding for predominantly working class education.
Striking lecturers were to take that message directly to education secretary Ruth Kelly by protesting at an event she was due to speak at in Birmingham on the strike day.
The 71 percent vote for action in the 80 percent of English colleges balloted shows the level of feeling among lecturers that, despite government promises, their pay remains 10 percent lower than school teachers’.
College employers have offered only a 2.8 percent rise this year. Lecturers in 65 percent of colleges have still not yet received last year’s pay rise.
Poor pay in further education is a reflection of the underfunding that blights the entire sector.
Schools, which are themselves hard pressed, get 13 percent more, about £400 a year for each student.
More and more colleges are dependent on lecturers on part-time or temporary contracts. FE colleges taught 100,000 14 to 16 year olds last year.
Under the government’s plans for more vocational education this will rise to 250,000 by 2008. And colleges teach twice as many 16 to 18 year olds as schools do. FE students are disproportionately poor and working class.
“The strike and the issue of pay are inseparable from the fight for decent funding for the whole further education sector,” says Sean Vernell from the Natfhe union branch at City and Islington college in north London.
“We’ve seen staggering course closures affecting adult education over the last year. Many colleges now face a budget squeeze.
“This week’s strike is very important. The lesson from previous pay battles is that we have to avoid becoming divided college by college, as some managements concede and others do not.
“That means developing a strategy now inside the union that aims to link up with students in a national fight, not only over pay, but also over funding.
“The savaging of further education is one of the biggest indictments of New Labour — and that should be known in working class communities everywhere.”