Fife College ‘failing students’ amid strike

Fife College Lecturers on strike outside the St Brycedale campus
Fife College Lecturers on strike outside the St Brycedale campus

Strikes by college lecturers continued this week, as it was claimed that management are failing students in the absence of lecturers.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), say the industrial action centres around management backing out of a promise to make all lecturers’ pay equal across Scotland.

College has given no re-assurances. Lots of students are concerned.

Lizzie Cook

But while Fife College bosses have insisted that the impact is minimal, some students have now revealed they are struggling without their lecturers as the end of the adacemic year draws near.

It has been claimed that students who face being unable finish their course due to the lack of a tutor are being told they can complete coursework later at their own expense.

Kelly Wyse, a student on the Early Education and Childcare course, said: “A couple of the classes have been told that they can come back and complete their work but they’d have to pay.

“I wouldn’t have the money to do that.

“I don’t want the course to go on any longer than it has to as I’ve got family to think of.

“I’m sitting here struggling. The course ends in June, there are loads of assessments, and I don’t feel I’m getting the support I need.

“I don’t see where I can go.

“There’s no back-up for students.”

If no resolution is reached, another three days’ worth of strikes will take place next week.

Alison Davidson, EIS branch secretary for Fife, said: “We signed up to an agreement in March last year, that pay would be equalised across all colleges in Scotland, in the same way that all teachers are paid the same, and all nurses are paid the same.

“We agreed separately at the same time that we would negotiate terms and conditions because they obviously differ as well.

“The pay deal was agreed, terms and conditions would follow. Management have now said that the two are inextricably linked, which is not what was agreed.

David Torrance, Kirkcaldy MSP, said: “I think it should be resolved as quickly as possible, not only for the harmony of the college, but for the sake of the students. You’ve got to remember that people have all got to work together in this college The quicker it’s resolved, the quicker they can build up that trust again and take the college forward.

“Management have got a serious part to play in that as well.

“In the case of students who might not finish their courses, college management should seriously look at putting in place facilities to allow these students to continue either on to their next year or finish their course.

“Because at the end of the day that is the responsibility of the college management, not the lecturers. They are there to manage the college to provide facilities for the students.”

The Press also spoke with students who had been affected by the industrial action – and their frustrations were evident.

James Ingram (23), and Rory McCall (28), both study HNC Professional Cookery, and the latter says he has been directly affected by the strikes.

Rory gets help from a scribe at the school, helping him with reading and writing.

He said: “I get support and the strikes have impacted me.”

Rory says the college has tried to help, adding: “There have been some support staff here but they’ve only stayed with me for a short while because they’ve had to cover for someone else.”

James, who comes through from Dunfermline to study, says his friends have been affected.

“I’ve had friends complaining that they’ve come all the way through here from Dunfermline and been told their teachers are on strike,” he said.

“They’ve just had to go home.”

Lizzie Cook (23), is a second year Beauty Therapist student and says, while the strikes have not impacted on her, they are affecting pupils in the year above.

“A lot of my friends have been affected,” she said.

“A lot of their classes have been cancelled, meaning they are not able to meet clients for their graded unit.

“They are having to wait until the strikes are over to be able to do the classes.

“The college hasn’t given them any reassurance.

“They don’t know what’s happening.

“A lot of them are concerned they’ll have to come back next year to sit their graded units, and they are in their final year.”

Both James and Rory agreed supported the staff in their reasons for striking, but questioned the timing.

He said: “It’s bad that they’ve chosen to do the strike at the same time the exams are going on.

“I think that if they wanted to strike they should have done it earlier in the year.”

Views from the picket line

One member of the strike, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s quite hard to fathom how they signed up to the agreement then reneged on the agreement. It’s quite odd that people can do that in a professional capacity. They signed up to the agreement, nobody forced them, and now they’re not honouring it.

“They’re trying to create a two-tier system now whereby the people who are coming in at the back of us can be on less holidays and things like that.

“And that’s quite difficult for the people that who will be sitting at the same desk as you and getting less holidays and doing the same job.

“People are on temp contracts just now. They’re entitled to the same holidays.

“Then the promoted post that exist at the moment ... if anyone goes to them they’ll lose 12-18 days holidays. I don’t neccessarily think they have a vision of what they’re offering us.

“Whilst we’re on strike they gain money, as we’ve not been getting paid.”

One member of the strike, who did not want to be named, said: “I’ve been through the miners’ strike, and they weren’t as black-hearted as that shower in there.

“It’s just total intransigence, it’s just twistedness.

“We have to win this strike. Right is on our side, the moral imperative is on our side.”

One said: “I’d like to know where is the money? We’re on strike, they’re saving money with our wages.”

A lecturer also highlighted the impact on students.

“Yesterday at Stenton we had two young students who checked the college website which said that exams would not be affected, so they came in and there was nobody there. They had to come out.

“What the college meant was their SQA exams wouldn’t be affected, but their class assessments obviously will be. It wasted their time and made them feel disrespected.”

Another lecturer felt that the students had been caught in the middle.

“It seems very disrespectful to students that they’re expecting them to come in, sit in a class, and wait to see whether someone turns up or not.

“The plan for students has been run very badly, and it’s very disrespectful.

“They’ve not been given a clear picture of what’s going on. It’s not fair.”

One student, who had joined lecturers on the picket line, said: “I’ve been here every day. If they’re all doing the same job then they should all be paid the same amount. It’s not fair that our lecturers are worse off then anyone else.

“Our lecturers do a fantastic job day-in and day-out.

“They bend over backwards for us, do everything for us.”

She felt that communications from college management had been lacking.

“All they say is that there will be strikes, you are welcome to still come in and work in the library, but most classes will be cancelled

“They don’t say anything else.”

What the college said

The Press asked the college how many students had been affected by this week’s strike action.
We also asked how many courses had been cancelled – and to explain what its plans were to “minimise the disruption” to people studying for exams and doing course work as well as travelling to attend classes.

The college said it could not give numbers impacted, and issued only a a brief statement which said:

“Fife College is disappointed at the national strike action.

“We are doing what we can to minimise disruption to our students. In the interests of our students, we would urge the EIS to suspend their strike action while national negotiations are continuing to secure an agreed settlement.”