Qualified lecturers' starting salaries will rise above those of schoolteachers if they accept a new pay deal agreed by unions and colleges this week.
But the deal thrashed out between the employers and unions brings only short-term solutions, the unions have warned.
Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "The settlement will bring peace to the sector after 10 years of tension over pay."
But the sector was still far from having a "fair and equitable" pay structure overall. The gulf between school and college pay was still too great higher up, he said.
The deal comes as FE Focus launches its Fair Pay campaign for college staff. The aim is to pressure employers into granting all lecturers pay parity with schoolteachers. Teachers in general FE colleges are believed to earn, on average, 12 per cent less than colleagues in schools.
The latest deal includes a 3.5 per cent rise backdated to August. Lecturers will then get another 0.5 per cent from August this year (backdated to April) and a new pound;18,500 starting salary for all lecturers with qualified teacher status (point 5 on the new scale). New teachers in schools will start on pound;18,105.
There will be a minimum pound;5 hourly rate for support staff from April and the National Joint Forum pay working group will produce a longer-term strategy to "modernise" pay for all staff.
David Gibson, AoC chief executive, said: "We now have the opportunity to...
modernise pay arrangements that will enable colleges to retain staff, recruit new lecturers, managers and support staff and provide fair career progression and opportunities for all staff."
The unions see the deal as good news for the lowest-paid lecturers, but only the first step in achieving parity with schools for the whole profession. All six unions involved strongly recommend the settlement to members, said Mr Lovejoy.
"We had hoped for more money this year but it is an honourable settlement.
It is the light at the end of the tunnel after 10 years of bleak pay settlements." He was particularly pleased that the starting salary has risen marginally above that of schoolteachers.
"We are entering the new working party with a view to achieving greater parity all the way up the pay scale. We also want to de-casualise the workforce."
The unions and employers agree that full parity will require more money from the Government, on top of the pound;1.2 billion over the next three years pledged by Education Secretary Charles Clarke.
Already, the Government has hinted this money could be made available.
Union officials have revealed that, in a private briefing before his speech at the AoC conference last November, Mr Clarke held out the prospect of more cash - provided unions and employers make "significant progress" on pay reforms.
Christina McAnea, senior national officer at Unison, representing support staff, said: "Mr Clarke indicated to the main unions that, providing both sides were working together to reach agreement on key issues, then he would consider a request for more money.
"I would foresee us having to go back, because the current settlement is unlikely to be enough to give support staff a decent wage."
Paul Mackney, Nathfhe general secretary, said: "Mr Clarke said that, if we can show progress in rebuilding the pay system, and if there's sufficient confidence, then we should go back to him and make our case for more money."
Fair Pay Campaign, 34-35