Warnings in Yorkshire over 'year of unrest' for colleges

Damian Hinds Education Secretary
Damian Hinds Education Secretary
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Colleges could see another year of industrial unrest, union leaders at a Yorkshire summit have warned, unless action is taken to engage over pay claims and working conditions.

Further education funding has dropped at twice the rate of schools, analysis published by the Education Policy Institute suggested earlier this month, with claims that college teacher wages have now fallen 17 per cent lower than those in secondary schools.

There have been protests and strikes in parts of Yorkshire over the past year, with 15 of the region’s colleges signing up to a campaign in October lobbying Parliament for extra cash.

Now, as members gathered in Harrogate yesterday for the second day of the University and College Union annual summit, there are calls for settings to engage with staff to deliver better conditions.

Pay Claim

Having submitted a pay claim to the Association of Colleges (AoC) on Friday, the union called for £1 extra per hour for all staff as well as an additional five days’ annual leave per year.

The union’s head of further education, Andrew Harden, told delegates that colleges could not “shirk their responsibility” to staff and hide behind Government cuts.

Mr Harden said staff were “fed up” with being told that nothing was possible unless the Government came to the rescue.

“This pay claim addresses the problem of declining pay in further education and provides the largest lifts for the lowest paid,” said Mr Harden.

“We hope the AoC engages positively with us now otherwise we could see another year of industrial unrest.

“This year should have taught colleges that they mustn’t wait until strike action to deal with us.”

The AoC, campaigning Government, has long argued that colleges have received no funding increase for the past decade as costs rise. The Department for Education (DfE), meanwhile, has also promised to look carefully at 16 to 19 funding ahead of the next spending review.

University 'poor value' degrees

The call came as the Education Secretary, ahead of a review of university’ funding, warned that thousands of students are being let down by settings providing poor value degrees.

With one in 10 courses, analysis by the DfE has found, there is a 75 per cent chance that graduates will not be earning enough five years after leaving university to start repaying student loans.

Mr Hinds is calling on institutions to drop or revamp courses delivering poor value for money.

He is also urging prospective students to use data available to them to make sure they are choosing a course and institution that is right for them.

The figures should be a wake-up call for universities about their responsibility to deliver the best outcome for students, he added.

“I want universities to be brave and ask themselves if they’re running courses that really help students gain the skills they need for the workforce of tomorrow – if they’re not they should improve them or end them,” he said.

“But if universities think other options like apprenticeships or technical education are a better fit for a student, they should give young people that advice rather than put them on a course that isn’t providing what they need for a bright future.”


The DfE analysis identified about 20 providers where at least three quarters of all students are still not earning enough to start repaying their loans five years after graduation.

Graduates must start repaying their loans when they earn £25,000 or over – a threshold that was raised by the Government in April 2018.

The DfE says around 45 per cent of the value of outstanding post-2012 student loans are not expected to be repaid, coming at a significant cost to the taxpayer.

Mr Hinds said it is not right that institutions benefit from student loan funded fee income for delivering poor value courses, as students and taxpayers are the ones that suffer.