Colleges have been urged to make a pay offer that "truly values" lecturers as national strikes get under way in a battle for better salaries.

However, institution bosses hit out at union leaders, accusing them of rejecting a proposal that would have kept Scottish staff the best remunerated in the UK.

The development comes after protracted talks failed to reach an agreement, with many classes cancelled as members of the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) began industrial action. It means students face significant disruption in the run-up to exams.

Senior figures at College Employers Scotland (CES) said their original offer - which included a £150 one-off payment, as well as an £850 consolidated payment in recognition of work done throughout the Covid pandemic - was higher than that made to, and accepted by, teachers, civil servants, police and the fire service.

Bosses also put forward an additional £50 to top up the one-off payment but this was rejected by the EIS-FELA. A ballot resulted in 70 per cent of members backing walkouts and 80% supporting action short of strikes.

As part of the dispute, the union is planning 14 days of discontinuous strike action in April and May.

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Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said: “An EIS survey, conducted in late 2021, found that over half of the lecturers who responded had experienced higher workloads and higher levels of stress during the pandemic.

“Concerningly, a similar number of respondents reported that they had received no wellbeing check in from their employers. Despite this, college lecturers have continued to deliver high quality teaching and learning to the students they serve.

“Since the advent of national bargaining in further education, there has been only one occasion in which a pay award has been made without EIS-FELA members having to resort to industrial action. Pay awards have not been the result of benevolent management.

“Statements comparing the terms and conditions of college lecturers in Scotland with those elsewhere in the UK ignore the fact that these conditions of service, including pay, have been hard won through EIS-FELA members taking collective action, which has been repeatedly opposed by senior management and their representatives.”

HeraldScotland: EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan.EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan.

He added: “EIS-FELA remain committed to negotiating an end to this dispute and indeed requested the last dispute resolution meeting that was held.

“However, at this point, there has been no formal invitation from the management side of the National Joint Negotiating Committee for further talks. College lecturers deliver for students; management representatives must return to the table with a pay offer that truly values their efforts.”

Gavin Donoghue, director of CES, branded the union’s stance “disappointing”. He said: "Colleges are already in deficit by £5.7 million and the sector is facing a real-terms cut in funding of £51.9 million this autumn.

"Strike action will not result in an increased offer, there simply isn't any more funding that colleges can put forward."

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Mr Donoghue also insisted that the college pay offer would ensure Scotland's lecturers remain “by far the best paid in the United Kingdom and continue to enjoy the best terms and conditions in the four nations”. He added: “In a final attempt to avert industrial action, College Employers Scotland offered an additional £50 to the one-off payment to stop strike action going ahead, which was rejected.

"Our offer is in fact beyond what colleges can afford, we have pushed our resources to the maximum because we value the work that lecturers do and wish to avoid further disruption to our students."

Mr Donoghue stressed that the CES door was open if union negotiators "wish to meet to discuss any practical, deliverable and affordable plans to end this disruptive and unnecessary dispute".

CES represents employers' views on national pay, terms and conditions for college staff. In Scotland, the sector employs more than 11,000 in wide-ranging roles and delivers education, skills and training to around 240,000 students.