College managers this week demanded a wide-ranging revision of post-16 education and training, and appealed for cash to help to prepare for the future.
The Association for College Management issued a manifesto for education, calling for an end to "stop-go" policies, and a national debate on the purposes of the education system.
ACM leaders appealed for extra cash to cover pay rises and inflation and demanded money to halt redundancies among lecturers.
But the association, which represents 3,500 college managers, rejected pre-election calls for a Dearing-style review of further education, arguing instead for urgent talks with ministers on a coherent policy for post-compulsory education.
The report echoes much new Labour thinking on curriculum reform and changes to industrial relations in colleges. But it issues a clear plea for extra cash at a time when ministers are committed to current spending levels.
The Government has already moved to dampen expectations that the tight settlement for colleges will be eased, although ministers have said that colleges stand to gain from the windfall tax, expected to be the centrepiece of Chancellor Gordon Brown's first Budget on Wednesday.
The association's seven-page manifesto concentrates heavily on colleges' financial problems. It argues for a relaxation, although not an end, to the year-on-year efficiency drive imposed on principals.
And it makes a plea for specific action to meet next year's recommended pay rises and inflation - moves to counteract the Pounds 115 million cuts which will hit colleges from September.
The manifesto says: "We need an agreed national vision which can be translated into fair, reasonable but adequate resources for the colleges. Each year the nation spends some Pounds 36 billion on education and training - there is a need to look at the focus of this spending in terms of effectiveness, adding value to individuals as well as improving the competitive advantage of UK companies."
The report is scathing about the effects of previous government policy on staff in FE colleges.
"We believe the events of the past four years have damaged the morale and status of the profession.
"There is tremendous instability in our sector. We look to government to ameliorate the situation where colleges have to make compulsory redundancies until we have agreed a national vision for the sector. This may mean in some cases providing additional financial support to colleges to meet this need. "
There is support for the reform of mandatory and discretionary awards for students, and a positive response to the much-discussed idea of individual learning accounts for students.
And the union urges ministers to press ahead with reform of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, to create a credit transfer system, as well as bringing schools, sixth forms and colleges into line in a common post-16 education system.
The report says: "We believe much has been achieved in difficult and sometimes uninspiring circumstances. We need policy and priority change in a coherently planned and managed manner based on trust and openness - excessive competition has not been helpful."