Contract row hits Leeds tie-up

July 10, 1998

Will terms and conditions be eroded as FE and HE institutions merge? The THES looks at the flashpoints

A STAND-OFF over staff contracts is expected to blight the merger between Leeds Metropolitan University and Harrogate College, which has finally won ministerial approval.

Lecturers' union Natfhe has accused Leeds managers of an "abysmal failure to consult and negotiate" over new staff contracts. After more than a year of planning for the merger, Natfhe complained this week that despite repeated requests for meetings, the union was formally brought into the consultation only four weeks ago, on June 9, giving just two months before the merger goes ahead on August 1.

Natfhe was expecting that staff terms and conditions would be harmonised to ensure staff from the further education college would not be expected to do work in the higher education sector on FE contracts, with lower salaries, shorter holidays and higher teaching loads.

But the university confirmed in a letter last month to Natfhe, that it "remains the university's intention to maintain a separate further education framework for staff employed at Harrogate College".

In a letter to Leeds's head of employee relations, John Daw of Natfhe wrote: "As the managers of the university and of Harrogate College have deliberately frustrated all approaches to establish a consultative process then you must understand that the association will achieve for its members the appropriate conditions of service, which should have been the subject of consultation."

A Natfhe branch meeting held in late June carried the following motion:

"Support for the merger does not imply acceptance of the continuation of extant terms and conditions of service or contractual differences after the merger."

It is understood that a working party on the staff contracts issue has been established, and Natfhe said it would work towards an amicable solution, but warned that "one cannot argue from a conclusion".

Leeds Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Leslie Wagner was unavailable as The THES went to press, but in a pre-prepared statement to announce the merger, he said: "We have become more and more convinced that the divisions between further and higher education are creating obstacles to lifelong learning. The support the merger has received from agencies and individuals in Leeds and Harrogate has been very encouraging, and we look forward to the future."

In a letter to Natfhe, the university insisted that "we have actively sought to engage in dialogue to ensure that both yourselves as the representative academic trade union and the university have jointly explored the issues of concern with a view to planning a strategy to address concerns".

HE vs. FE

Employment contracts in further education have varied between colleges since the Colleges' Employers' Forum, predecessor of the Association of Colleges, tore up the Silver Book agreement with unions.

This encouraged most colleges to offer staff flexible contracts based on a CEF model, often including no limits on teaching hours. Many colleges have now negotiated local contracts with Natfhe.

This means direct comparison with HE is difficult, but Natfhe says in almost every case conditions are worse in colleges. Its main concerns are in two key areas.

* Working hours. HE contracts in new universities limit academics' formal teaching time, including seminars, lectures and lab work, to 550 hours a year or 18 a week.

While staff in old universities do not normally have agreed hours of work, the teaching pressures tend to be less anyway. Recent surveys by the Association of University Teachers found lecturers in old universities spent about 55 hours a week working in term time, including doing research and admin. In FE, lecturers spend over 800 hours a year, on teaching alone, a weekly rate of 37 hours a week outside London and 36 in London.

* Research and scholarship.At old universities, academics spend about a third of their time on research. Contracts at new universities stipulate that academics have the right to between four and five weeks for research and scholarly activity. There is no such guarantee in most FEcontracts and no national guidelines.

Alison Utley talked to academics working on the border of HE and FE about contract worries.

Mick Booth, High Peak College, merging with Derby University on August 1:

"In theory there will be two schools after merger, higher education and further education, with two distinct contracts, but people will rapidly start to teach across both schools. That is inevitable. FE people will welcome the chance to teach in HE and, of course, they are cheaper teachers as well.

"If the university starts to offer further education then contracts will really become an issue. We are exposed and shouldn't teach higher education unless on HE terms and conditions. But one reason for these mergers is to drive down costs. Everyone wants to transfer to HE conditions, especially if we start to do more higher education, but economically this is a non-starter.

"They are already talking about building a higher education centre here. There will be envious glances over at our colleagues in the university. We teach longer hours and our salaries are about Pounds 5,000 less."

Paul Russell, Bradford and Ilkley Community College: "We have about 3,000 higher education students here and we are all on further education contracts, which is obviously a problem. Many people feel they are delivering higher education on conditions that most people in higher education wouldn't accept. Many of us are involved in teaching on both sides of the divide. But we put up with the situation because the alternative - having colleagues working on different terms and conditions - could be very divisive. The trouble is that next door we have Bradford University and a lot of people feel their conditions are unfair.

"Politically, though, it is not possible to take any other line. And the job market is not all that buoyant."

Denis Parkes, Derby University: "It's horses for courses really. In further education they have more teaching hours but we have more depth of teaching and we have our research. As far as the merger goes, we have discussed common personnel procedures but not how the nature of our work might change. There is a worry that FE teachers might start coming to work in the university. One is already working here doing higher education work. It is a creeping process, and once the principle is established it will be extended. That has not really hit home here yet."

Anonymous: "I was a research fellow in a university before moving to teach HE courses in an FE college. You can't live your life feeling aggrieved but I do feel permanently dissatisfied. There is no time to think or keep up with the literature, let alone engage in your own research. The trouble is the world is full of former research fellows who felt screwed by short-term contracts in universities and so moved to the security of a full-time permanent job like this. There is reasonable security but the workload is appalling. My teaching hours have doubled in the ten years I've been here. I now regard the research work I used to do in university as a fantastic luxury. And I do miss that.

"There is a feeling here that if you're not in front of a class you should be on the end of a phone. You can't hide away like we used to do just reading. Students get a great deal here because at least they are taught by professional lecturers rather than by students more interested in their own research."

Interviews by Alison Utley

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