The decisions they face

May 9, 1997

THES reporters examine the higher and further education issues facing the new ministers

UNIONS

AT HIS first press briefing last week David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, stressed that there is no "pot of gold" available for further education, and called for a cooperative attitude from the sector, writes Alan Thomson.

But already higher and further education unions are calling on the new Government to halt planned funding cuts while a fairer system is worked out, and this week London was hit by a wave of strike action.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "We need a moratorium on the planned cuts. Without this breathing space there is the risk that institutions will hastily close departments, reduce options for students and sack staff."

Mr Triesman also called on the Government to commit to an independent pay review body for higher education lecturers. He said that there would be no specific strike action taken against the Government if it failed to introduce PRB. But he warned that without a PRB pay offers would be disappointing, which could lead to staff balloting for action. At least one draft motion to next week's AUT conference calls on the union's executive to prepare for industrial action if a PRB is rejected.

Natfhe's general secretary John Akker also wants a freeze on cuts which are already being blamed for huge redundancies, and resulting strikes, throughout the sector.

The most immediate crisis is in further education. In London staff are, or are considering, striking in eight of the 11 inner London colleges. The eight colleges plan to shed hundreds of jobs in the face of cuts and deficits totalling nearly Pounds 20 million.

Southwark College is perhaps the worst hit. More than 160 Natfhe members are on indefinite all-out strike over plans to axe 26 full-time lecturers and possibly 123 part-timers.

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