GOVERNMENT ambitions for an extra 500,000 students in higher education by the millennium came under threat from lecturers yesterday.
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, called on his members to boycott all extra duties involved in designing and assessing courses for these students unless ministers promised more money for higher education.
He said: "We will not collude in dumbing down higher education. We will not accept responsibility for overseeing this kind of unfunded expansion. We do not believe it is good for students, for the UK or for the sanity of staff that we pretend to working-class families that this is the real thing."
Prime Minister Tony Blair announced plans for an extra 500,000 students by 2000 at the Labour party conference last year. Most of the additional places were expected to be provided in further education colleges.
But Mr Triesman said standards of higher education courses in many colleges were "unacceptable". He said radical and urgent changes were needed in funding and pay before any expansion could take place.
AUT members were expected to vote yesterday in favour of preparing for industrial action should employers fail to produce a satisfactory pay offer or support a statutory pay review body. The union wants a "significant above-inflation" salary increase for lecturers in old universities.
The Lecturers' Common Interest Group, a union group set up to coordinate pay demands for lecturers at new universities, has also called for "a substantial increase above the rate of inflation on all salary scales and points, including the part-time hourly rate and the London Allowance". It wants to bring starting salaries, pension rights and promotion prospects more into line with those in the old universities.
Submitting its 1998-99 pay claim to the Association of Colleges this week, Natfhe said further education lecturers would need an increase of at least 5.1 per cent to redress a fall against the Retail Price Index since 1993. To match the rise in average earnings pay would need to rise by 11.3 per cent.
Natfhe is opposed to a pay review body. It wants to re-establish national pay structures and seeks a framework agreement on working conditions, including safeguards on teaching hours. Unison is expected to call for a substantial increase for all staff, linked to a minimum pay rate of Pounds 4.42 per hour. It is likely to demand single status, single table bargaining and a common pay spine for all higher education staff.
All unions want action to reverse the growing use of casual lecturing staff and waiver clauses in fixed-term contracts. All seven higher education unions met employers this week to decide how this year's pay claims should be discussed, against the background of the new independent review committee on pay and conditions of service.
Employers want to deal with the unions jointly on pay, although most unions disagree, saying it will not allow them to raise the concerns of their particular members.
Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "We have formed proposals about the way forward. We are now waiting for the trade unions to respond."
The general secretaries of the AUT and Natfhe agreed this week to work towards improving relations between them.
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