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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Lecturers: 'We are undervalued'
Pickets outside Waltham Forest College
Pickets gathered in Walthamstow at 0730 on Tuesday
Lecturers at colleges across England and Wales braved the wind and rain to set up picket lines outside their institutions.

Their two-day strike is in protest at a 1.5% pay offer which their union says is insulting.

Placards and banners went up outside Waltham Forest College in Walthamstow, north-east London at 0730 on Tuesday morning.

Gina Colledge
Gina Colledge says lecturers have had enough
Pickets from the lecturers' union Natfhe took up their places, urging other members of staff and students not to cross the picket line.

"It's about the under-funding of the further education sector," said chemistry lecturer Gina Colledge.

"The starting salary here is 17,500, including an outer London weighting, and yet you have school teachers starting on about 20,000.

"The average age of lecturers in this college is 48 - now that indicates a crisis is looming," she warned.

Eugene Vesey, who teaches English as a foreign language, said he had seen many colleagues leave during his 25 years at the college.

Eugene Vesey
Eugene Vesey has seen many colleagues give up and leave
"I feel that my services are not being properly rewarded or recognised - immediately by the Association of Colleges, but ultimately by the government.

"One can't help making comparisons with other professions - school teachers, doctors, dentists - they seem to be better paid, which seems wrong."

Students' tempered support

The National Union of Students (NUS) has pledged its support for Natfhe members, saying poor pay was driving the best lecturers from the sector.

But the two-day strike does come in the middle of the exam season.

Pickets at Waltham Forest College said they were not preventing students taking exams from entering the college.

"We haven't wanted to be too aggressive because students are taking exams, so we don't want to create a poor atmosphere for them," said Gina Colledge.

Students at the college seemed to reflect the NUS stance, offering some sympathy to their lecturers' plight.

"I think they should get more money - they spend loads of time outside college hours doing resources for lessons," said 18-year-old Wassila Sayid.

Shabana Bashir, 17, said: "I do think they have a point - teaching is not the easiest job in the world and we students don't make it any easier for them."

No other approach?

But both students, who face exams in business next week, expressed some concern at missing out on lessons.

"My finance lesson was cancelled - now that lesson is important because that's my weak spot," said Shabana.

"I did want to talk something through with my teacher today, but she's not here now."

"We do support them, but I don't think it's good what they are doing to us students - there should be another way of getting their point across," said Wassila.

"But I do think the government should give them more money," she said.

Management support

Natfhe members at Waltham Forest College have also received a sympathetic response to their situation from their principal, Carol Gibson.

Ms Gibson said colleges were in a position where they could not afford to give staff decent pay rises - the only way they could do so was to take away from other areas, such as college equipment or student support.

Carol Gibson
College principal Carol Gibson says staff deserve more money

"The staff in this sector are brilliant - they cope with the diversity of client that no other sector has.

"We're dealing with traditionally under-represented groups - people who have been excluded from school, those needing help with basic skills, older students - and that takes particular skills.

"We're looking to the government to increase core funding so there is at least parity with school teachers."

Exam season

So how does Ms Gibson feel about the timing of the two-day strike - in the middle of students' exams?

"This is the time when pay talks are happening - the time when the government is considering its comprehensive spending review.

"The Catch-22 that any public sector faces is that the right of individuals to withdraw their labour affects people and there is never a good time for that to happen.

"But they don't do this lightly and it's a measure of their desperation that they're prepared to take extreme action."

See also:

27 May 02 | Education
17 May 02 | Education
23 Jan 02 | Education
17 May 02 | Education
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