A new business providing lecturers for hire has cut its subscription rate by Pounds 1,000-Pounds 2,000 per college, fuelling speculation that the take-up of the service has been poorer than expected.
Education Lecturing Services, endorsed by the Colleges Employers Forum, is to reduce its entry charge of Pounds 6,000 to Pounds 5,000 if more than 100 colleges join the scheme and to Pounds 4,000 if more than 150 colleges join. ELS could not provide anyone to comment this week on the changes, or on rumours that significantly fewer than 100 colleges had formally signed up for the service by their deadline of May 31.
Roger Ward, CEF chief executive, however, said that the rumours were inaccurate. To gain CEF endorsement any provider must adhere to European and United Kingdom employment law and provide value for money. CEF had told ELS it expected fees to be reduced as numbers of subscribers grew.
The Association of Principals of Colleges said its guidance to colleges was to "reserve judgement" on ELS. Tony Colton, president of APC and principal of Matthew Boulton College, said there were pros and cons to joining but questions were being raised as to who actually benefited from membership. He said that some corporations were wary of the service, which they feared amounted to the privatisation of the workforce.
ELS proposes to operate a national register of self-employed lecturers whose services can be bought for short courses or part-time work.
The CEF, which claims no corporate or business links with ELS, says it has been studying ways in which colleges can develop further quality and flexibility in employment practices. Its research, and the involvement of the private sector, has secured a Pounds 5 million investment to establish ELS.
The CEF told principals last week that it had examined a number of supply lecturer providers. ELS had agreed to follow CEF operational guidelines and quality criteria and therefore the CEF was "commending" ELS to its members.
The Association for Colleges said it was offering no formal guidance to its members over membership of ELS but that its advice would be "caveat emptor".