Union campaigns to scrap QAA

June 1, 2001

Lecturers' union Natfhe is to campaign for the abolition of the Quality Assurance Agency after delegates to its annual conference launched a series of attacks on the inspection regime.

Closely mirroring resolutions to boycott the QAA's review teams carried at the annual conference of the Association of University Teachers the previous week, Natfhe resolved to get the QAA replaced by "a proper quality enhancement body which links quality to proper resourcing".

Opposition from the two unions, which represent more than 100,000 lecturers in further and higher education, will be a serious blow to the QAA which relies on peer review. Its new regime will be rolled out in England from next January.

Delegates at Natfhe's higher education sector conference in Scarborough carried a motion from the southern region that accused the QAA of failing to "ensure the maintenance and improvement of higher standards and general quality in higher education". The motion said that the QAA was seeking to "impose dubious bureaucratic and education procedures on university and college staff".

A section of the motion calling for a ballot for a total boycott of the QAA's "visits and procedures" was deleted in favour of two amendments that called for a campaign for the abolition of the QAA and a campaign with other unions for a different regime that would "lead to a real rather than fictitious improvement".

The conference also expressed its strong opposition to the spectre of performance-related pay, mooted in a recent Higher Education Funding Council for England document, Rewarding and Developing Staff in Higher Education . The paper sets out the criteria for the distribution of the additional £330 million earmarked for pay over three years by government.

A motion from Natfhe's southern region, carried without opposition, said the Hefce document "seeks to impose PRP on the sector". It called on the executive to campaign against it. An inner-London motion, expressing the union's "total opposition to all forms of PRP", was also carried.

A tactical manoeuvre by the Natfhe executive, designed to head off plans for PRP, was almost defeated through popular opposition to the Institute for Learning and Teaching. Natfhe's executive committee sought approval for a campaign to reward lecturers' professional performance by paying £1,000 to all those who obtain accreditation by the ILT. This, said the executive, would be "infinitely preferable to PRP, which we abhor".

But members were concerned about such a glowing endorsement of the ILT's professional accreditation scheme, which is approved by government and employers.

Mike Todd, representing Natfhe's inner-London region, said that ILT membership was a "Mickey Mouse" qualification, which meant nothing to people in higher education. Inner London warned it would be wrong to endorse a £1,000 "bribe" for lecturers to join the ILT.

But an amendment from the union's inner-London region, designed to wreck the executive motion, was defeated only after a count of votes and the executive's plan survived.

Other motions included:

  • Calls for an ombudsman for post-school education
  • A call for more funding for widening participation in a motion that warned that government access plans were "in crisis"
  • A resolution to examine the possibility of taking legal action against managers intercepting members' and union activists' emails
  • A call for a democratic ballot of staff before a planned merger between London Guildhall University and the University of North London
  • A condemnation of the "Curriculum 2000" A-level reforms as a "bureaucratic nightmare"
  • A demand for action to improve recruitment of black lecturers in further and higher education.


STRIKE PLANS

College lecturers have decided to escalate industrial action in their campaign for pay parity with school teachers, raising the prospect of indefinite strike action throughout next term.

Natfhe has warned that last week's one-day strike, which hit a reported 290 colleges and millions of students, was just the beginning of the campaign. At its annual conference, the union agreed a six-point plan to escalate its industrial action.

If employers fail to improve on a 3 per cent pay offer during talks later this month, the campaign will be stepped up to include a two-day national strike in autumn, timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference in order to cause maximum embarrassment. Indefinite strike action would be on the agenda if employers do not improve their offer, Natfhe said.

The overwhelming majority of delegates supported further strikes, spurred on by claims from the Association of Colleges that last week's strike made little impact.

An emergency motion from the national executive setting out a six-point action plan was strongly supported by delegates. The motion congratulated union members "on the magnificent support" for the May 22 strike and warned: "This is the start of the action campaign in support of the 2001 pay claim."

Lecturers will conduct a campaign of action short of a strike, with a ban on working beyond contractual requirements, throughout June. There will also be a petition of college staff and a campaign of letters to MPs and college governors.

A national demonstration and lobby of Parliament in early July, in which a petition will be handed to ministers, will be followed by a two-day strike to coincide with the Labour conference. Following this, a national meeting of regional officials will advise on further action "including consideration of indefinite strike action".

General secretary Paul Mackney told the conference: "Further education lecturers have achieved a 70 per cent increase in the number of students over the past five years, with steady retention rates and an increase in achievement rates. And how have we been rewarded? FE lecturers' pay has fallen 10 per cent behind that of school teachers."

He said that average pay was £22,000 for full-time lecturers, and as little as £14,000 for hourly paid part-timers. Natfhe wants a £3,000 flat-rate increase as part of its campaign to achieve parity with school teachers by 2004.

The AoC, which has claimed that only a "small minority" of lecturers went on strike last week, said it would regret "any action which could undermine government confidence in further investment in colleges".

The AoC said that the size of lecturers' pay claims would add an extra £2 million to the pay bill of a medium-sized college, "which could not be afforded by any college".

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