Helen Liddell in the Press

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Lecturers strike as Liddell sets out strategy


SCOTTISH Education Minister Helen Liddell yesterday set out "excellence, collaboration and increased access" as the three key challenges for Further Education colleges.

But as she launched the Government's Strategic Framework for Scottish Further Education, Opportunities for Everyone, lecturing staff at South Lanarkshire College were embarking on the first day of a rolling programme of strikes due to last 12 weeks and lecturers at Paisley's Reid Kerr College were conducting a ballot on industrial action.

Ms Marian Healy, further and higher education officer with the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the South Lanarkshire College dispute was over the compulsory redundancies of two mem-bers of staff and that the union hoped to have their cases dealt with soon at an industrial tribunal.

College principal Gordon Robbins said: "It is very unfortunate to have to adjust staff levels. The entire college staff sympathise with those colleagues involved."

A spokeswoman for the college added that the union organising the strikes had refused to accept either the rationale behind these redundancies or that this was a sector-wide problem.

"In fact, in other colleges from different areas the future is decidedly bleaker, with over 70 redundancies being discussed in one particular college," she added.

Ms Healy said that, while the EIS was still negotiating with the management of Reid Kerr College over its proposed 75 redundancies, it was also balloting on industrial action in the event of compulsory redundancies.

Mrs Liddell, speaking at Cardonald College, said the Framework document signalled the role of further education as a key to social and economic inclusion, and challenged colleges to build on efforts to increase access to and participation in further education.

"The Framework calls on colleges to develop a culture of working together and to operate more flexibly and responsively to the needs of the communities they serve. The highest quality and standards - which can already be found in many colleges - should apply equally throughout the sector.

"The Government has committed an extra 214m to the FE sector in Scotland - a measure of our recognition of the sector's role in Scotland's future. We now look to the colleges to deliver on that investment."

The launch of the Framework coincided with the launch of the Glasgow Telecolleges Network (GTN), which links Glasgow colleges to provide on-line training to student, local and business communities in the city.

The 2m GTN, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Strathclyde European Partnership, is a partnership of 10 FE colleges in Glasgow, Glasgow Development Agency, the Scottish Office, and the Scottish Council for Educational Technology. It is also supported by the four local universities and Glasgow City Council.

Mr Tom Wilson, chairman GTN executive group and principal of Glasgow College of Building and Printing, said: "The new network will be seen as the model on which the Scottish University for Industry will be developed. This will help us to widen access to education so that the many and not the few will be able to participate in lifelong learning."

Lifelong learning centres, which will provide 24-hour direct access to GTN, will be located in traditional education environments and in areas such as shopping centres and libraries through the creation of a public library network.

On-line learning packages for students and Glasgow's citizens have already been developed by the colleges in conjunction with partners such as the BBC, Glasgow's Museums and Art Galleries, and European education partners.

The packages cover a range of subjects from interior design applications to job interview techniques and feature a number of celebrities, including Richard Wilson, Dawn French and Hugh Laurie. - March 11