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Taking action in higher education

Northumberland College strike brings college to a standstill

22 April 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Members of UCU at Northumberland College today brought the college to a standstill. Classes were cancelled as staff walked out in a row over job losses, pay cuts and increased working hours.

Around 100 UCU members were on picket lines at all main entrances to the college, some from as early as 7.30am. Protestors made their way to shops near Ashington station for a 1pm rally where UCU president, Alastair Hunter, was among the speakers at the rally.
The college has said it will make 67 academic staff redundant and increase the working hours of those who remain, resulting in a pay cut for all lecturing staff. A union presentation to the college has revealed that it is already spending below average on mainstream staff, but has more than doubled the size of the senior management team in four years.
The staff who survive the jobs cull will see their teaching hours increase from 825 to 900, with a huge rise in preparation time and marking as well. There will also be a huge reduction in how much staff can earn with the top grade for lecturers dropping from £37,000 to £27,000. The ten members of the senior management team enjoyed an average salary of £62,800 in 2008/09 and the senior management team salary costs increased by 94% between 2007 and 2009.
In the presentation to the college the union exposed the college's plans as completely out of step with the rest of the further education sector. It also revealed a bloated senior management team and below average staff costs.  The union's presentation showed that:

  • Northumberland College's senior management team (SMT) of ten is more than twice the sector average. The college should only have four members of SMT based on the sector average of one member for every 926 learners
  • salary costs for the senior management team have increased by 94% in two years
  • teaching staff costs at Northumberland are currently £30,033, compared to a sector average of £35,059
  • the sector average for teaching hours for a member of staff is 827. Northumberland College is proposing to increase staff teaching hours from 827 to 900.

The union said the college needs to consider other options before pushing ahead with its punitive measures. In its presentation to the college the union suggested a voluntary redundancy scheme and natural wastage before axing jobs. It also questioned why the college wanted to drastically alter how it delivers its teaching after praise from OFSTED in both 2006 and 2009.

The union says the college's plans are a real smack in the face for education in the region. Northumberland College is the only general further education college in the county and provides education to students from Berwick to Hexham, including at the Kirkley Hall Agricultural College in Ponteland. At the start of the month over 90% of UCU members who voted supported strike action and a massive 99.19% agreed to action short of a strike.

Iain Owens, UCU regional official, said: 'UCU members at Northumberland College made it quite clear today that they will be fighting the college's ridiculous plans. It is quite outrageous that staff are being targeted in such a punitive way while cash continues to be splashed on a burgeoning senior management team.

'The new plans would leave local students at a huge disadvantage as their teachers try to fit all the extra teaching hours in. The college needs to step back from its current plans and consider our alternatives and also explain why it wants to fix something that OFSTED has told them is not broke. The fight back starts with next week's strike action.'