NOT everyone does well at secondary school, for a range of reasons: difficult personal circumstances, challenging family experiences or perhaps the timing wasn’t right when it came to sitting exams.

Colleges of Further Education (FE) provide a second chance for those who want to get better grades, Highers or A-levels.

They also provide qualifications for various trades, practical job skills and lifelong learning.

There are 27 colleges in Scotland, with 277,620 enrolments each year. A total of 67% of college students are part-time and 43% are aged 25 or older.

FE colleges employ over 14,000 staff, of which 60% are women, and play a vital socio-economic role in Scotland.

Almost half of all college students go onto study at university, while around 40% leaving college go into paid work.

Yet, FE college lecturers have been in an industrial dispute in Scotland for the last two years over pay and conditions.

This has been described as the forgotten strike of the Cinderella service.

Lecturers want their work to be valued. They seek a fair pay increase like other public sector workers.

They also want the constant threat of redundancy to be removed and a more secure future for themselves and students.

Lecturers have been offered a 7% pay deal over three years by employers that equates to £5,000. The Education Union – EIS-FELA – seeks 11% over that period, which represents £8,000.

The pay ask of college lecturers is lower than recent pay deals for other public sector workers.

The average pay deal for school teachers agreed last year was a 14.6% pay uplift over 28 months. That resulted in 70% of teachers receiving £6,100 over the time period.

NHS Scotland staff settled on a more complex pay deal over a two-year period that is more generous for lower paid workers. To take an example, for NHS staff on £37,087 per annum, the pay award represents 14% over the period.

In the case of industrial disputes involving NHS staff and teachers, the Scottish Government intervened and provided financial support to resolve both.

Why not do the same for FE colleges?

No good answer to that question has been provided.

Almost 80% of college income comes via the Scottish Government through the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). As public bodies, incorporated colleges are not permitted to retain any reserves.

An Audit Scotland report confirmed: “College sector funding for the academic year 2022-23 has fallen considerably, down five per cent to £696million compared with the current academic year (a fall of nine per cent to £654million in real terms).

“In May 2022, the Scottish Government announced its multi-year spending plans up to 2026/27. This shows a flat cash settlement for the SFC over the next four years, equating to an eight per cent reduction in real terms.”

According to Paul Little, Principal of City of Glasgow College, writing in The Herald in April this year: “Colleges have been compromised by a loss of institutional autonomy, by the cessation of borrowing powers to renew our digital infrastructure and estates, and by an inability to retain end-of-year surpluses to mitigate the next crisis, whatever that may be.”

The Scottish Government can’t keep hiding behind its mantra that colleges need to settle pay disputes. It intervened when NHS Scotland and local councils had to settle pay disputes with their staff.