Cuts in both staffing and courses are starker than ever this year, say principals. While some are being forced to act to recover from weak financial positions, others with healthier balance sheets claim they are having to take drastic steps now to avoid disaster.
Some plan sweeping redundancies affecting up to 200 staff in a single institution, others intend to close main sites and cut entire programme areas.
Total job losses in the sector for 1995-96 are on course to outstrip the 1,500 predicted by the lecturers' union NATFHE. It accurately forecast 1,500 redundancies last year.
Colleges in the North-west are among those feeling the brunt of the cuts. In Merseyside, at least 200 jobs are under threat at Wirral Metropolitan College under moves to slash Pounds 3.5 million - 15 per cent - from next year's budget.
The losses will include 65 voluntary redundancies from the college's full-time academic staff, plus almost all part-timers and a tenth of support staff.
Governors are expected to endorse a decision to close one of the college's four main sites in line with a Further Education Funding Council plan to reduce its accommodation by a third.
Wirral principal Jenny Shackleton said the college recognised it had to take "forthright action".
Neighbouring City of Liverpool Community College is also planning cuts. It proposes closing a major site and is seeking 40 voluntary redundancies among teaching and support staff by August.
In Manchester 90 redundancies are planned at City College, where managers are talking with unions about absorbing the cuts through voluntary departures. Principal Dave Gibson said "If we don't take action now, it will be disaster later."
Across the Pennines at The Sheffield College, job losses - which come on top of 100 voluntary redundancies in the past year - are part of a wide-ranging package of cuts to reduce a Pounds 3.8m deficit.
Some of the giant college's 117 local sites will be shut, less popular curriculum areas such as construction will be cut back and charges will be introduced in the cr che. Principal Ken Ruddiman said there was no figure on planned job cuts but losses would be "significant".
At Yorkshire Coast College, 27 support staff are to go as the college embarks on its second recovery plan. The first plan led to 60 redundancies.
Some NATFHE members at Soundwell College, Bristol, are in the second week of a strike over plans to shed 34 full-time academic staff.
At the College of North East London, Bernie Grant MP was due to speak this week at a meeting over plans to shed 45 lecturing and support staff and close a site.
John Brennan, Association for Colleges policy director, said: "The squeeze is beginning to bite now in a really severe way."