FURTHER EDUCATION (FE) colleges across the country are facing a major crisis over the next months and years. Government funding is changing and potentially huge cuts are looming. Cuts are falling right at the end of this term in most colleges. Every cut this year must be fought, but they are just a taster of what is looming next year.
Even before this cuts crisis, funding through the Learning and Skills Council is always uncertain, meaning that colleges and staff cannot properly plan, and then face last-minute cuts. Mismanagement in many colleges has compounded the problem and meant even further cuts.
Some colleges face massive cuts this year. In Tower Hamlets, 40 full-time equivalent posts are to go, which could mean as many as 90 people losing their jobs. The cuts fall most heavily in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) department, in a part of London with a diverse community and many people for whom English is not their home language. Yet, the college's management is to be increased by 15 and the principal earns around £160,000 a year.
The national rebuilding programme has been a fiasco. Urged on by the Learning and Skills Council, colleges everywhere made plans for new buildings, spending money on consultants and new designs. Hopes were raised of new facilities and resources.
But the reality has been a shambles. New buildings have proved too small for the job and without basic facilities such as staffrooms.
Even before most of the new building was underway, the plug has been pulled on the entire project. This leaves colleges having wasted huge amounts of money on planning. Some colleges had even knocked down old buildings, and are now housed in portable cabins with no prospect of a new building.
There may also need to be a fight on the pay award. College staff cannot allow managers to say 'choose job cuts or pay cuts'. The lesson from industry is that that does not work. In JCB, LDV and Visteon, and elsewhere workers agreed to concessions in the hope of saving the factories but the bosses still shut them down and made massive job cuts.
However, another lesson from industry is that a united fight of the workers can win. At the Lindsey oil refinery construction workers have won a second tremendous victory against the attempts by bosses to undermine trade union pay and conditions and victimise activists. Unofficial solidarity action spread across the country and swept aside the anti-trade union laws.
Staff and students cannot be left to fight on a college-by-college basis. On Friday 3 July, Hackney and Tower Hamlets colleges will be on strike, and the London region UCU has called on all FE colleges to hold lunch-time protests on this day.
This approach of action across London should be carried on over the summer to prepare for a united national fight in the autumn.
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