STAFF at an agricultural college near Winchester have today made history as they walked out in a dispute over low pay.

The strike at Sparsholt College is part of the biggest wave of industrial action further education has ever seen with 22 colleges across England seeing three consecutive days of strike action this week. 

The University and College Union (UCU) has seen a rapid expansion of its membership at the college, with the branch almost tripling in size since the start of UCU’s ‘Fair Pay in Further Education’ campaign.

The main college entrances will be picketed on Tuesday and Wednesday, with staff continuing the strike until Thursday.

A spokesperson for the college said: "Whilst we are disappointed that a very small number of our staff members, three 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.

READ MORE: Sparsholt College joins strike action with University and College Union members over low pay amid the 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."

The 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 stands at around £9k.

Unqualified college teachers earn as little as £21,000 while qualified teachers earn as little as £26,000.

In June, the Association of Colleges made a pay recommendation of just 2.5 per cent, despite RPI inflation running at 12.3 per cent.

So far UCU has called off strike action at a number of colleges, including Croydon College, after receiving improved pay offers.

This summer, UCU produced a report that shows the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure, 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.

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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.

The union is also balloting staff at 150 universities over low pay.          

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "This dispute is easy to resolve, but Sparsholt College is refusing to give its own staff a fair pay deal. Instead, our members are being pushed into poverty amid the cost of living crisis.

"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. We need a serious pay offer that will help staff survive the coming months to avoid further disruption."