Staff from Gateshead College protest over pay cuts and increased working hours.
As the economic downturn continues to put pressure on the sector, staff at FE colleges up and down the country are increasingly facing the prospect of redundancy.
In the last few weeks, a wave of institutions have revealed plans for potential redundancies in a bid to cut costs following the loss of government income; some colleges have been hit by up to 12 per cent.
But as figures revealed last week show the country slipping into a “double-dip” recession, the threat, according to the University and College Union (UCU), is showing little sign of letting go any time soon.
Barry Lovejoy, national head of further education at the UCU, said that around 50 colleges are undergoing consultations on possible job cuts, affecting potentially 500 jobs, as well as changes in work conditions.
Some changes, he says, include “how far a teacher can progress” and their pay scales being reduced to slash wage bills.
He also added: “I would anticipate that over the next couple of weeks that it will increase to other colleges.”
However, Mr Lovejoy is “unsurprised” by the news. He said: “Colleges didn’t get their final allocations until the Easter period which shows up where they are in cash terms.
“The big picture, as I understand it, is that there’s around a seven to 12 per cent cut in terms of loss of income to colleges.
“It does vary. The amount will vary on a college’s historical position and on where its main focus of work is, adult or under 19, and there’ll be different combinations of that.
“Plus, another impact is the removal of the education maintenance allowance as that has had an impact on student numbers, which has a knock on effect on whether they can get the numbers they required.”
Just days before the start of the Easter break, Sunderland College announced it intends to make 36 people redundant as part of a bid to save £2.26 million in 2012/13.
The cuts have also led the college to review job descriptions for all teaching staff with a proposal to put in place a number of pay bands, with a formal consultation already underway.
Angela O’Donoghue, principal of Sunderland College, said: “Due to government funding cuts, we have been required to undertake a review of our staff job descriptions and department structures to ensure that we can continue to deliver excellent education for our students.
“This extensive work has concluded the need to change both. Regrettably the impact of these cuts has meant the changes we need to implement will lead to 36 redundancies.”
However, they insist that the level of service to students and customers will not change.
The principal added: “The college’s vision has always remained the same despite the tough times in which we operate.”
Although no job cuts or redundancies have been announced at Gateshead College, plans have been shared with teaching staff to “transform the way they deliver the curriculum, to improve students’ experience and ultimately their job prospects”.
However, the move has led to industrial action by UCU members, who staged a demonstration two weeks ago outside the college, after claiming the college intends to cut teachers’ pay and increase working hours.
Richard Thorold, principal and chief executive of Gateshead College said: “The proposal involves the introduction of a new staffing structure for the teaching workforce.
“It does not involve any compulsory redundancies and there will be job opportunities for everyone affected.
“If we are to address the issues of youth unemployment and help stimulate the growth of our regional economy, we need to ensure that people leave our college with qualifications but also with a unique set of skills that make them highly employable, effective in the workplace, or in creating their own start-up businesses.
“Developing and implementing new and innovative curriculum models and skills sets is vital if we are to achieve this.”
Peterborough Regional College has begun a consultation over plans to introduce management and organisational changes in the area of Curriculum and Quality.
The plan could affect around 60 staff in management, support and administrative posts at the college.
The big picture, as I understand it, is that there’s around a seven to 12 per cent cut in terms of loss of income to colleges”
A college spokeswomen said: “Many staff will simply transfer into very similar roles in our new structure; a number will need to apply for the new jobs we are creating that replace a larger number of existing roles.
“As we consult staff we hope to ensure the numbers of jobs lost overall will be small and we will seek to make changes through voluntary methods where possible.”
Budget savings from the plans could equate to approximately £240,000, with some of the savings being “reinvested into teaching hours”.
More significant, say the college, will be improvements to the service they provide as a result of the changes.
Angela Joyce, principal and chief executive at the college, said: “We would not be making these changes unless we thought them to be essential.
“The changes will ensure we can meet the enormous challenges faced by all FE colleges and continue to meet the needs of our students and employers in the years to come.”
Meanwhile, at the start of April, it was revealed by Chesterfield College that they “estimate 80 redundancies” across the institution.
Acting principal Trevor Clay said: “Chesterfield College has to act now in order to future proof the great service we provide to thousands of learners, employers and communities each year by bringing our costs in line with the funding we receive and the income we can generate.”
He added: “Our excellent track record of recruiting and delivering high quality education and training has, until now, enabled us to avoid the need for regular restructuring that many other colleges undertake.
“Currently 70 per cent of our expenditure is made up of staff costs and whilst every effort will be made to reduce non staff costs and wherever possible grow income it is, we regret, inevitable that posts at the College will be lost.
“Our estimate is that 80 redundancies, spread across all areas of the college, are required and it is hoped to reach this figure by staff electing for voluntary redundancy.”
The news from the college has been met with dismay by the UCU, who are balloting their members over the plans.
However, a consultation on similar proposals made by the College of West Anglia (CWA), which could result in net job losses of up to 19 staff, is due to close next week.
The college needs to make efficiency savings of £1.6m in 2012-13 to address reduced government funding and enable it to fund major building projects in King’s Lynn and Wisbech.
The proposals announced are designed to make savings of £400,000 in staffing costs and £1.2m in non-pay costs. The college employs around 800 staff and the posts which could be lost mainly affect non-teaching staff based in King’s Lynn.
The proposals include the closure of residential accommodation for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities at Plaxtole House in King’s Lynn and the closure of the Pulse8 fitness centre.
Principal David Pomfret said: “We are in the middle of a well-publicised period of public sector funding cuts which is affecting colleges across the country.
“CWA is also undertaking major redevelopment with new technology centres in King’s Lynn and Wisbech and a major refurbishment of the nine-storey tower block in King’s Lynn. We need to make budget savings of £1.6m in the coming year and, although we are planning to deliver the major part through reductions in non-pay budgets, we also need to take tough decisions which inevitably affect jobs.”
Elsewhere, Stockton Riverside College is facing a £1.3 million cut in government funding for the next academic year.
A consultation is underway which could see 25 posts affected by measures including voluntary redundancy.
Dr Sujinder Sangha OBE, the college’s principal, said: “This is compounded by a rise in National Insurance and pension costs, which means we expect to have £1.5m less to spend next year. Colleges across the UK and locally are facing a similar situation.
“As a direct result of this, we expect around 25 teaching and support posts to be affected. This does not equate to 25 people losing their jobs. We have met with staff as soon as we were aware of the scale of the cuts, so they were as prepared as possible. Some have expressed an interest in voluntary redundancy, reduced hours or job share options.”
He added: “Our main focus at the moment is on supporting staff and also seeking ways of minimising the impact of these cuts on students, so their studies will not be affected.”
Karen Sutcliffe, the college’s UCU branch chair, said: “We are disappointed that government funding cuts are resulting in more job losses at the college.
“We are having regular meetings with senior management to minimise the effect on staff as far as possible.”