Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)
Staff teaching at our colleges, adult learning centres and prisons have had their fair share of bad news in recent months. The government is cutting funding for the sector by £1.1 billion and the prospect of large-scale redundancies and course closures grows by the day.
If that wasn’t bad enough, from April staff will be compelled to pay an annual membership fee of £68 – a cost previously picked up by government – to the Institute for Learning (IFL), the compulsory professional body for further education lecturers.
While that might not sound like much money it comes at a time when lecturers’ income is under severe pressure. With a pay rise of just 0.2 per cent last year and the prospect of increased pension contributions already being imposed upon them, this latest punitive measure could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
One of the most surprising elements of the story is the IfL’s survival. Quangos and the like have received short shrift from this administration and the Tories made much of their pre-election promise to light a bonfire of the quangos.
The General Teaching Council (GTC) has gone, freeing teachers from the duty and cost of membership, but the IfL remains. Not only does it remain but it intends to charge its members £68 – double the price that teachers were charged by the GTC.
The reaction from our members has been unprecedented. In a matter of days more than 5,000 signed UCU’s petition opposing the charge, with many furious at being forced to pay a bill to a body they are required to join, but which they feel doesn’t benefit them.
A recent survey of IfL members revealed the clear disdain they have for the body and this poll was carried out before members were aware of the proposed £68 membership fee. Just 19.7 per cent said that they thought the IfL fulfils the role of a professional body; more than half said they did not think there should not be a requirement to join the IFL; while a massive 84% said they would not be happy to pay for the membership.
It seems quite strange that, following the axing of the GTC, college staff are now to be forced to join a professional body, and pay for a privilege that few of them want. Many people surveyed made the point that they already belong to a professional body and see little value for money in signing up to the IFL.
Before membership of the IfL was compulsory membership peaked at around 1,000. It now enjoys membership of 200,000 and says it prides itself on being member-led. If that really is the case then it needs to immediately axe the plans for a £68 fee.
You can sign the petition against the increase at: