A group of students fear industrial action could deny them their places at university – and are backing their lecturers to the hilt.

Members of the EIS-Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA), who are lecturers across the nation's 26 further education colleges, rejected the offer of a 2 per cent pay rise in December.

Last month a ballot with a turnout of 53% saw 78% vote in favour of strike action and 94% back action short of a strike.

EIS-FELA chose to adopt action short of a strike, which involves lecturers no longer carrying out duties beyond their contractual requirements, including withholding student results from college systems. The dispute will be escalated to strike action at the start of the new academic year if no acceptable pay offer is forthcoming.

Many across the country will have conditional university offers which they will be unable to take up if they do not have results.

Read More: Scottish colleges face strike action as lecturers could walk out for fair pay

Among them are Sher Khalid-Ali, Kimberley Rose, Amanda Richford and Kerri-Anne McGhee, students at New College Lanarkshire, Cumbernauld.

Together they have formed a group called Student Action, putting forward the message “our results matter” and standing with their lecturers.

Miss Khalid-Ali says: “We are all mature students, we’ve all returned to education after being out of it for years.

“We’re on a SWAP (Scottish Wider Access Programme) where we do a year at college, and if you pass all your assessments you get into uni.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say that before this we were unemployed, on benefits, and if you’d told me before I went on the access course that I could have got to Uni I’d have laughed in your face.

“We got to college and our lecturers taught us, ‘this is what you can do, these are not skills you don’t have they’re just skills you have to learn’. It put us in a position where we thought, ‘we can do this’.

“Our lecturers are amazing, I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. They helped us with our Uni applications, they helped us with personal statements – they don’t have to do those things.

“They help us when we don’t understand things, they stay behind late, they find different methods of explaining things. It feels like they’ve done everything for us to get us to the point where we’re ready to go to Uni, and college management has said ‘we don’t care enough to end this dispute for our students’."

HeraldScotland: Sher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student ActionSher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student Action (Image: Newsquest)

Miss Rose agrees: “Not a single lecturer that we’ve spoken to has said it’s an action that they want to take.

“Every single lecturer has told us that as soon as the dispute is resolved every result will be uploaded - even if they have to stay there all night.”

This year’s action marks the eighth time in nine years that college lecturers have taken industrial action, with EIS-FELA making clear that the 2% offer would in fact represent a real terms cut to salaries due to the high rate of inflation.

Miss Khalid-Ali says: “The union has been warning that this has been coming for months. This isn’t something that has blindsided the colleges, what they’ve relied on is the goodwill of the lecturers.

“They didn’t think this action would come because they didn’t think lecturers would accept it but they’ve been left without a choice.

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“We couldn’t name a single member of college management but they’re paid handsomely, whereas if you came to any of us in 30 years’ time and mentioned a lecturer’s name we’d remember them.

“I don’t think they realise that the whole value of their institution comes from the bottom up, not the top down.

"The people who are suffering are students and lecturers. Our lecturers are devastated that this is going ahead because they know the impact, they see it directly.

“That’s why I think college management didn’t think this would go ahead, because they thought that the goodwill of their staff would be a laurel they could rest on.”

HeraldScotland: Sher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student ActionSher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student Action (Image: Gordon Terris)

For the group, the Scottish Government’s touting of free university education and the need to fight poverty rings hollow after it abandoned plans to provide £26m of further funding for colleges.

Miss Khalid-Ali said: “Surely when the First Minister is talking about how he’s determined to end poverty you fund the sector that does that?

“You don’t restrict people’s social mobility by stopping colleges getting funding.

“The more I’ve researched it I’ve started to think it’s a class issue, because working class people don’t generally go from school straight to uni – we have to take the stop-gap of college because there isn’t a direct bridge there.

“The sector has been chronically under-funded, not just the sector as a whole but the staff – you can’t expect people to run on goodwill.

“Why is it that our staff don’t get the backing of the people who make the financial decisions? The only thing you can think of is that they teach the working classes.

“We don’t have middle class students, we don’t have students who went to highly-acclaimed schools – we are people who were failed by education the first time around and have come back to rectify that.

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“What’s the point in pushing that narrative of Scotland having these socialist ideologies and wanting to get people into university when they don’t fund the sector that gets people there?

“It’s all well and good shouting about the amazing university system, and it is a good system that people do benefit from, but if you have a really good desert island and you don’t build a bridge to it then what’s the point?

“You’ve got university, secondary education, and between them this rickety bridge that they refuse to fund.

"We’d like to, if possible, appeal directly to college management and the Scottish Government – step in, do something, because students are suffering.

“Every single student that we’ve spoken to has said that we can say this on their behalf: we back our lecturing staff, we do not feel they’re the ones withholding our results.

"We feel colleges are the ones withholding our results and the college employers and Scottish Government need to step in and do something because these are people’s lives.”

Read More: Should wealthy parents be allowed to pay for university places?

Andrea Bradley, EIS general secretary said: "College lecturers should have received a pay award in September 2022, and the protracted and frustrating nature of pay negotiations has now resulted in the EIS-FELA engaging in industrial action.

"College leaders and the Scottish Government must deliver a fair settlement to avoid further significant disruption that would risk students not being able to progress.

"Despite the months of warnings that this industrial action would be undertaken, college employers have still failed to produce a pay offer that is acceptable amidst a cost-of-living crisis and the Scottish Government has failed to pay any attention to this dispute.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is for the college unions and the employers to negotiate pay and terms and conditions voluntarily, in the spirit of collaboration and co-operation. The Scottish Government is not directly involved in the national collective bargaining process.

“It is important that unions and college employers continue to hold talks to avoid any potential industrial action and subsequent disruption to learners.

“We expect management and unions to make every effort to reach a settlement that is fair and affordable.”

A spokesperson for New College Lanarkshire said: “Action Short of Strike Action by EIS-FELA members is being undertaken as part of a national dispute between the union and College Employers Scotland.

HeraldScotland: Sher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student ActionSher Khalid-Ali and Kimberley Rose of Student Action (Image: Gordon Terris)

“The college is acutely aware of the potential impacts on students and hopes that a resolution is found between both sides as quickly as possible.”

Gavin Donoghue, Director of College Employers Scotland, said: “It is deeply disappointing that EIS-FELA has begun action short of strike, which includes a resulting boycott. Colleges are fully aware of the serious impact this could have on students - particularly those preparing to progress to university - and will be doing everything they can to minimise the impact of the resulting boycott.

“Colleges are proud that lecturers in Scotland already have better pay and terms and conditions than lecturers in any other part of the UK and are committed to exploring all possible avenues to reach a pay settlement for this year.

“Colleges recently boosted their offer to lecturers to a two-year pay deal of 3.5% in 2022/23 and 3.5% in 2023/24, providing a 7% cumulative pay rise across both years. However, this improved offer comes at considerable cost to colleges – almost £24 million over both years - at a time when they are receiving flat cash funding from the Scottish Government and with other costs increasing rapidly.

“Last week, a proposed £26m funding increase for colleges announced in the 2023/24 Budget was withdrawn by the Scottish Government. This only serves to underline the precarious and ever-changing financial position colleges find themselves in while seeking to address trade union pay claims.

“College Employers Scotland will be meeting the EIS-FELA again as soon as possible to seek an agreement on pay so that colleges can continue delivering the world-class learning experience their students rightly expect and deserve.”