Further education needs an urgent injection of funding

Pay claim for FE staff submitted as survey reveals members struggle to pay the bills

Earlier this month, the joint unions met with the Association of Colleges (AoC) to discuss the pay claim of 5%, or £1500, whichever is the greater, for further education staff.

The AoC have asked for the joint unions to support them in demanding a specific pay injection from the government that will be ring-fenced for staff pay. The proposed pay package that has been offered, contingent on this funding offer being accepted, is 5% over two years.

UNISON’s committee is now discussing how the union will respond to this offer in light of a recent survey which revealed that members in FE are feeling increasingly demoralised, stressed and demotivated following year after year of cuts to their pay and conditions.

The pay claim also comes as pay in further education has been falling behind pay in schools for a decade and this week it’s been announced that many teachers will be getting a pay award of 3.5% this year.

As far back as 2016, the Conservative minister Robert Halfon said: “High-quality technical and further education is not only vital in opening up doors to young people in some of the hardest to reach areas of the country, it also helps local businesses get the skilled workforce they need to drive up the productivity and economic growth that our economy needs.”

“We couldn’t agree more,” says UNISON’s national officer Leigh Powell. “If we truly want our country to flourish in the future we need to invest in our further education sector as a matter of urgency.

“To do this, the sector needs a significant injection of funding right now, invested in the staff in our colleges.”

“We have hard-working staff in colleges struggling to buy the basic necessities of food, heating and a roof over their heads. 12.7% of our members struggle to pay food bills, with 2.1% having used a food bank. 16.3% struggle to pay for utilities and 11.4% struggle with rent/mortgage repayments.

“This follows years of governing bodies of colleges refusing to implement even the modest pay rises negotiated by their own employers’ association with the unions.”

According to a recent FOI commissioned by UNISON only 29% of colleges awarded their staff the very modest pay rise of 1% in 2017-18, a figure that was also backed by our survey responses.

Colleges who would like to invest more in their people are limited by the arbitrary ratio imposed by the FE commissioner that only 65% of a college’s budget should be spent on staffing.

“The majority of our members told us that buildings and facilities are in a good condition, but they are increasingly seeing cuts to maintenance due to cutbacks in the staff needed to clean and carry out repairs,” added Leigh.

“Colleges need more staff and better paid staff so they are able to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead for the whole country.”