Standing Up for Education: on the City of Glasgow College Strike
Lecturers at City of Glasgow College have entered their eleventh week of strike action and are currently seeking mandate for future strikes due to crippling changes in terms and conditions and vast compulsory redundancies. Management have reduced class contact time, increased the number of classes taught per week with no consideration to preparation or marking time, while pushing class sizes to the max. Further to this, and in many ways, even worse, they have outsourced Learner Services to a private company depriving students of the wealth of experience that Learner Support Lecturers were able to provide and have also reduced many of the lower-level courses provided which provided a stepping stone to vulnerable students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Students come to college looking for an opportunity to improve their life. In a recent study by Colleges Scotland, they found that some 36% of our students come from some of Scotland’s poorest areas and a substantial number, around 43%, are mature students aged 25 years or over. We support students who come from care experienced backgrounds, didn’t have a good experience in secondary education, those who need college as part of their apprenticeship, people who have experienced homelessness, poverty, asylum seekers, those who are returning to education after a significant period and need additional support, basically a wide range of people each with their own story and their own unique needs to be met by learning and support staff. As 84% of college leavers go onto positive destinations such as full-time employment or university, it’s obvious that college staff are providing that second chance to many (Audit Scotland, 2022)
My own path through education is similar to that of many of our students. During my time in high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to study for ten Highers, however I would attain only three of these. My teenage years were largely consumed with trying to avoid being at home as much as possible due to my mother’s dependency on alcohol, or dealing with the chaos that addiction ultimately brings to family life. I realised that going to university would not be the best idea and left school after 6th year for full time employment in call centres. I suffered badly with mental health problems, and even after getting out of the household situation, depression plagued me. After a suicide attempt in my early twenties, I realised that something had to change, I had to try and get something positive in my life and made the decision to return to education. After successfully obtaining my HNC and HND at College of Commerce, I went on to Strathclyde University for my Honours degree.
While I was at college, I realised that I wanted to teach in further education, sharing my love of my subjects and helping other people to get their second chance in life. I have been fortunate enough to be able to do that for the past ten years now and love nothing more than hearing the success stories of my students after they have left our courses. Of course, success cannot be measured in any simple statistical means of qualifications gained, success to some can be finding joy in studying within an area and learning more, it can be building confidence in public speaking, the friendships made, and networks gained through attending college. For some, it can just be that it provided a reason to leave their home and interact with others. Further and Higher Education have unfortunately been too concerned with the number crunching business model of education, the benefits of an educated society being overlooked in favour of how much profits can be made, how many awards can we gain.
Ironically, in a year where 175 members of staff are being made redundant, either through compulsory or voluntary redundancies, we have also seen the principal Paul Little receive a CBE for services to Education. Recently, we gained the achievement of “Fair and Healthy Workplace” at the Glasgow Business Awards, which City of Glasgow also sponsor (at an unknown cost).
We have also received a 7-diamond world ranking at the 2022 European Foundation for Quality Management awards. This award does come at cost to the college for the assessment, though hopefully we will have received a discount for that as our Principal Paul Little is also the Chairman of EFQM Board of Directors (EFQM,2023).
All this money being spent on corporate events and awards is deemed necessary, but the livelihoods of lecturing and support staff, the ones providing the education to students, are dismissed. The spending issues at the college have been repeatedly signposted to members of the government, however they are ignored. We have been told that the redundancies and cuts to courses are necessary because of the government withdrawing their promise of a further £26 million which was to be given to the sector, however nothing is being said about the frittering of money on different awards that will have no impact on our students’ educational experience.
Audit Scotland (2022) Scotland’s Colleges 2022, July 2022 [online] Available at: https://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2022/nr_220707_scotlands_colleges.pdf Accessed on 9th October 2023
Colleges Scotland (2023) Our Colleges [online] Available at: Facts and Figures (collegesscotland.ac.uk) Accessed on 9th October 2023
EFQM (2023) About our Governance [online] Available at: https://efqm.org/about/ Accessed on 9th October 2023