AN AGRICULTURAL college near Winchester is taking part in the biggest-ever series of college strikes in a bid for better pay.

More than 20 colleges across England have been hit by strike action with reports showing thousands of college staff are skipping meals, restricting energy use and considering leaving the sector altogether due to low pay.

Staff at Sparsholt College under the University and College Union (UCU) will be striking for three days on Tuesday 18 Wednesday, 19 and Thursday, October 20, picketing the entrance on each morning.

Sparsholt College Group Strategic Leadership Team said: "Whilst we are disappointed that a very small number of our staff members (3 per cent) recently voted that they would be prepared to take strike action over pay (despite the College’s annual pay award having yet to be announced in line with our established timeline), we genuinely understand the difficulties which are being caused by the national cost-of-living crisis.

"Our staff will always be our most valuable asset and both the Strategic Leadership Team and Governing Body remain committed to remunerating our staff as best we are able.

"All students should attend college as per their timetable with both lessons and bus services continuing to run as normal."

READ MORE: Sparsholt College staff to strike over low pay

UCU is demanding employers make a pay offer that reflects the soaring cost of living. Since 2009 pay in further education has fallen behind inflation by 35 per cent and the pay gap between school and college teachers is now around £9000.

In June, employer representative the Association of Colleges made a pay recommendation of 2.5 per cent, which UCU labelled as an “insult” with retail price index (RPI) inflation standing at 12.3 per cent.

This summer UCU produced a report that showing financial insecurity among the majority of college staff, impacting the mental health of more than eight in 10 with many being forced to skip meals and restrict hot water use to save money.  Seven in 10 said they will leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

SEE ALSO: Sparsholt College and University Centre welcomes students to agricultural campus for first open day of the year

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This strike action is entirely the fault of college bosses who would rather see disruption hit colleges than give their own staff a fair pay deal. It is a disgrace.
“College staff are the beating heart of education and transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of students every year. Yet their pay has fallen behind inflation by 35 per cent over the last twelve years and now many are using food banks. It is frankly an insult for employer body the Association of Colleges to recommend a pay offer of just 2.5 per cent.

“Where we receive meaningful offers from employers we are willing to negotiate. But first college principals need to make serious pay offers that address the cost-of-living crisis.”