The government's 50 per cent participation target for higher education is in jeopardy because of a funding crisis in further education, lecturers' union leaders claimed this week, writes Tony Tysome.
Experienced FE lecturers are abandoning their jobs to take up posts in schools, where the pay is up to 12 per cent higher, according to Natfhe, the college lecturers' union.
The trend could leave colleges without the people needed to expand their higher education work.
Natfhe has warned that the government's target for increasing participation in higher education to 50 per cent of young people by 2010 will not be achievable without a significant increase in the amount of HE delivered in colleges.
Barry Lovejoy, Natfhe's head of colleges, said: "The crucial role colleges have in helping to achieve the HE target is at risk, because with lecturers leaving in droves they will not have the level of specialist knowledge needed to expand their HE work.
"The government needs to act now to address this funding crisis in colleges, or it will have consequences for higher education."
College staff are planning to strike in November after rejecting a 2.3 per cent pay offer from employers. Union leaders want colleges to at least match recent settlements of 3.5 per cent for university teachers and local government workers, and to work towards putting lecturers' pay on a par with that of school teachers.
But employers warned this week that they would not be able to increase their offer without more money from the government.
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said colleges needed education secretary Estelle Morris to provide an extra £110 million over the next two years, or release ring-fenced money to find an extra1 per cent in core funding, so that they could match pay in other sectors.
"The ball is in Estelle Morris's court. She has funds available to avert this strike," he said. "We want colleges to have a well-paid workforce, not one which is constantly under-resourced compared with schools and higher education."