Teaching conditions are in peril as further education staff in colleges and universities are being”forced” to take pay cuts, pay freezes and exploitative contracts.
The claim’s been made by the UCU (University and Colleges Union) in an interview with Leeds Hacks.
This comes after staff strikes across the country brought attention to the current state of college teachers’ jobs. Some teachers “have had no cost of living pay rise in five years, and some of them haven’t received a pay rise in 10 years.”
Douglas Chalmers, the president of the UCU, added that “some college teachers have worked in colleges for over 20 years and they have been given the choice to sign the contract or be sacked.”
The contract in question is an updated conditions contract that has been offered to staff at Nottingham College initially. But it is feared it could be rolled out to other members of staff at colleges and universities nationwide.
The contract is said to “cut their pay in most cases, cutting hours through what is essentially a zero hour contract, cut their holidays, as well as increase their work load.”
Suspected underfunding and overcrowding in classes also add to already difficult conditions in the classroom. “There are situations where classes are scheduled for 20 pupils and on occasion up to 46 have turned up. On regular occasions 27 or 28 usually turn up. Which is still way above quota.”
The fact that classes are becoming overcrowded is no new revelation, though it is still very important and according to UCU: “Not enough is being done about it, in schools of course, but in colleges in particular.”
How teachers feel
College teacher David McNeil responded to this by saying: “The amount of cuts in education has no doubt led to these kind of situations happening. It happened when I was teaching in Leeds years ago. Though it seems to have only got worse now.”
He added: “Nobody wants to go into the profession anymore. You hear a lot about underfunding at schools but colleges struggle as well.
“The difference between schools and colleges is that there is a larger margin of students who want to be in the classroom, and these students are not being given all the opportunities they should be as a result of overcrowding and underfunding.”
Zoe Cutter, another college teacher, said she was given a pay cut and holiday entitlement was removed. “I was forced into a new contract with the threat of dismissal if I refused to sign. It’s our students who will also suffer.”
Mr Chalmers, who was at the strikes with staff in Nottingham, later added: “The staff here gave eight weeks notice to say, if you don’t come up with something better we will be forced to go on strike, to which the college then did nothing for them and 96% of staff there voted for strike action.”
Mr Chalmers did add that in regards to a strike, “the resolute response from the staff at the college will make any other college currently think twice about attempting the same misguided strategy.”
A spokesperson for Nottingham College told the Nottingham Post that the college had been in continuous dialogue with UCU for some time and has made a series of significant concessions specifically to address these concerns relating to trust, pay and workload.” The UCU now hopes the new contracts will not be rolled out nationwide.