Scotland's colleges are facing the threat of “indefinite” three-day weekly strikes as a bitter dispute over the future of lecturing intensifies.

Staff are also being balloted on action short of walk-outs that could see them mark assessments but not enter or share results through their institution’s systems.

If voted through, the move by the EIS Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) would affect thousands of students and plunge graduations into uncertainty.

The row erupted after college representatives were accused of seeking to replace lecturer posts with “instructor/assessor” positions.

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Union leaders said the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association (CSEA) had refused to ratify one section of a proposed national role profile that sets out the core professional responsibilities considered to be “unique” to a lecturer’s job.

They claimed disagreement had arisen because employers wish to use non-lecturing staff to fulfill these responsibilities.

EIS-FELA bosses said failure to protect lecturer roles would deprive staff of vital class preparation time and remove the need for them to be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

This week has already seen a deterioration in the situation, with employees on Wednesday preparing to continue a strike as they bid to force a climbdown.

The CSEA said the allegation that it was seeking to replace lecturers was “unfounded” and called the action unnecessary.

It added that the only outstanding issue still to be finalised was around the wording of the national role profile.

CSEA leaders also said they had requested that discussions continue to gain further “clarification” on how the profile would be used and rejected accusations they had refused to “ratify” an agreement.

But John Kelly, EIS-FELA national salaries convener and a lecturer in business at West College Scotland, insisted the risks to further education were grave.

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“My current contract includes a set period of time for class preparation but the contract for an instructor does not,” he explained.

“For learning and teaching to be of value we require preparation and planning.

“It’s shocking in terms of work-load for staff – they might be told they have to do their preparation in the evening or over the weekend – but also from the perspective of students. If there’s no time set aside for class preparation, the quality of education on offer just plummets. Instructors also have lower salaries.

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“We’ve also been campaigning for compulsory registration of lecturers with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and that is now happening. We signed an agreement with Colleges Scotland in 2019 which ensures that lecturers will have to be registered with the GTCS in the way school teachers are, which is a good thing. And then this [replacing lecturers with instructors] comes in.

“Instructors will not have to be registered with the GTCS and I can really see a two-tier system developing in further education in which some courses are taught by registered lecturers and others aren’t.”

Calling for ministers to intervene, he added: “An indefinite, three-day weekly strike at colleges is a possibility. The terms of our ballot mean, in effect, that it could happen. I would hope it doesn’t come to that but goodwill amongst staff is now draining away fast.”

Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland President, branded the situation “scandalous” and said an “immediate resolution” was needed.

A spokeswoman for the CSEA said: “We know students are worried – however colleges are taking steps to ensure that disruption for individuals will be at an absolute minimum at this critical time in the academic year.

“The EIS-FELA has refused repeated requests to suspend the strikes while meaningful discussions carry on – national industrial action is wholly unnecessary.”

Addressing an NUS Scotland-hosted online debate, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “not acceptable” to get rid of lecturers and re-hire individuals to do the same job “on lesser conditions”.

She added: “I am very clearly saying to employers, ‘get round the table and get this resolved.’”

HeraldScotland: Student Grant MacKay, outside Glasgow Kelvin College’s East End Campus, fears the dispute could hit his plans for a university place.Student Grant MacKay, outside Glasgow Kelvin College’s East End Campus, fears the dispute could hit his plans for a university place.

CASE STUDY

By Lauren Gilmour

A student fears he will not complete his course on time due to the ongoing strike involving lecturers at his college.

Grant MacKay, 34, who is studying for his HNC in Working with Communities at Glasgow Kelvin College, has raised concerns that he might not finish his course on time to take up his place at the University of the West of Scotland in September if no agreement is met.

He said: “I’ve already put in a formal complaint to my college regarding the time left. “By my calculations, there’s only seven weeks left after the strike today.

“We only have seven weeks left and that takes us over the time needed to teach the unit and to do the assessment.”

Grant claims that the college is currently exploring the option of extending the term by an additional four weeks to cover the time lost to strikes which have been called by the EIS union, which represents the lecturers over a dispute surrounding their job description.

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He added: “I’ve got an official stamped document for my council tax exemption which states this course ends on June 18. My funding ends on June 18 so I’ve asked the college: are they going to pay my student loan and my extra bursary for that month that potentially I have to stay on?

“I’ve raised concerns to the college that part of my offer to university is that I complete all of my modules and units.

“I would like a guarantee that regardless of what happens that we pass our course or HNC so that we can get to university.”

The union claims they are being replaced with less qualified tutors who are not part of the nationally agreed pay scale and terms and conditions as set out by Colleges Scotland, the governing body for further education.

EIS claim the move would have negative consequences for students and would create a two-tier system of education, as not all students would have the opportunity to be taught by a professionally trained lecturer.

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A spokeswoman for Glasgow Kelvin College confirmed that they share students’ concerns about the impact of the dispute and that measures are being put in place to support them.

She said: “Glasgow Kelvin College echoes the concerns of its students and is disappointed that the EIS/FELA industrial action remains unresolved despite a consensus being reached between the trade union and the national Employers Association on the key issues of this dispute.

“Colleges are working to do all they can so that students are not disadvantaged by the impact of the pandemic or by the current strike days and proposed industrial action.

“The College fully appreciates that all students have their individual challenges and we urge them to engage with their lecturing and support staff to access educational, financial and wellbeing support. Students are reminded that there is a wide range of support services available at Glasgow Kelvin College to help them at this very difficult time.”