Rules of game lead to strikes

June 2, 1995

By discussing the dispute between college lecturers and their employers as a kind of poker game played by Natfhe and the Colleges Employers Forum, your leading article (THES, May 26) misses the serious issues that have fuelled it. The rejection of the new contracts must be read against the articles of incorporation imposed on colleges in April 1993.

On a fortnightly basis, college corporations are now run by the finance and general purposes committee of their boards of governors. Three college managers sit on these committees, the chief executive, the bursar, and the clerk to the governors, but no academic. Such a committee must therefore implement funding council directives while working only with statistics, blind to the experience and concerns of lecturers and students. Inevitably their decisions will be both ill-informed and command little respect.

The complete divide between managers and lecturers explains some of the passion behind the dispute. Under the proposed contracts, lecturers cease to be professionals whose primary responsibility is to their students, and become employees who must put the interest of the corporation first. They must do what they are told, when, where and for however long they are told, or face dismissal for breach of contract. There is no mechanism for lecturers to communicate with a committee short of a strike.

This system allows a government through the funding councils to test cost-cutting to destruction (through collapsing academic standards, staff resignations, stress-induced absenteeism, and so on). It can even push colleges into bankruptcy, blame their managements, then adjust funding to others. Since corporations are funded on the basis of statistics, what cannot be measured will be deemed not to exist.

The chief executive of the CEF's vocal contempt for lecturers has been the most telling argument in favour of rejecting the new contracts.

College principals have most of which to be ashamed. Now that they are puppets dancing on the strings of the funding councils, they can ponder the wisdom of embracing a dying Government so greedily. I suspect the Social Chapter will prove their come-uppance.

Patrick Doorley

Boundaries Road London SW12

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