An agricultural college is making six lecturers compulsorily redundant and offering them jobs back as "practical instructors" on half their previous pay.
A total of 12 horticultural lecturers' jobs are going at Merrist Wood College near Guildford, Surrey, six of them by compulsory redundancy, to be replaced by eight instructors.
It is believed to be the first time the jobs of further education lecturers on Silver Book contracts have been cut in favour of instructor posts, which the college is offering on technician pay scales.
"I think the whole staff is pretty demoralised," said one of the lecturers being made redundant.
"Everybody's worried they are going to be next so they are keeping their heads down. The thing that particularly worries us is that this is the first college that has used redundancy to introduce practical instructors. It has been done elsewhere but on a natural wastage basis."
The salary on offer for instructors is in the range Pounds 11,859 to Pounds 13,515 for a 45-week year, while most of those being made redundant are towards the top of the lecturer scale on Pounds 18,000 to Pounds 21,000, for a 38-week year.
The lecturer, whose job ends in December, added: "We have either got to take virtually a 50 per cent cut in salary or go.
"The instructor job is similar to the lecturing job in that the practical work and testing and assessing the student is much the same. They are trying to make it slightly different, with less pastoral work and less curriculum development, but essentially the main teaching element is the same."
Lecturers' union Natfhe said the move was a dangerous precedent which could threaten course quality and will be watched closely by other colleges eager to cut costs. A challenge at industrial tribunal is being considered.
Merrist Wood principal John Riddle has said the college is faced with a Pounds 300,000 budget deficit and needs to be more cost-effective. He was unavailable for comment to The THES.
A college circular describes the reasons for the new practical instructor posts as: creating a group of staff devoted to demonstrating or instructing in practical tasks and assessing practical skills; improving the effectiveness of staff resources; providing a progression scheme for technicians to become instructors.
It says they will not normally be involved in recruitment, curriculum development, course management or delivery of theory "although occasions may arise when they are asked to assist".
A motion at this month's Natfhe conference deplores the replacement of lecturers with instructors and calls for a clear strategy to campaign against it.
Regional officer Jan Koene said: "It is something we are extremely concerned about because it could set a very dangerous precendent. What the people involved are being offered is to do the same job for less money, however much the college hedges around and says they are not going to be concerned with the preparation of classes."