Around 8,000 jobs in further education are expected to go in a fresh round of cuts detailed in spending plans to be announced early next week.
Colleges expect to find themselves squeezed yet again by the combination of a cut in grant from the Further Education Funding Council and a series of other financial pressures.
The total FEFC grant is to rise by pound;50m in the new financial year. But many colleges are alarmed at the extent to which demands for "efficiency" savings, initiated by the last government will hit them this year.
In addition, high-cost colleges are being further hit by FEFC demands to drive average spending levels down.
Colleges in London have had the additional uncertainty of how much London weighting to expect after the end of the 199899 financial year as this has yet to be announced by the Government.
Many inner-city colleges which had hoped for more money from the FEFC to pay for courses for students from deprived backgrounds have been disappointed.
Expectations were raised after the extra costs were recognised by Baroness Helena Kennedy in her report on the future of FE.
Older better paid staff are most likely to lose their jobs. And the cuts have placed senior managers under tremendous pressure.
Sue Dutton, acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:
"It is extremely painful for managers to have to make cuts when they have not got many options.
"Several thousand jobs could go this spring and summer on top of the 20,000 that have been lost since incorporation. The Government's targets for lifelong learning could be under threat if the tide doesn't turn."
"We are moving towards having compulsory redundancies, which is a very bad thing for people in their 50s. They will get a poor deal despite putting in years of service."
Colleges are typically having to make 20 or more staff redundant. Mrs Dutton said many lecturers and other staff would only receive statutory redundancy because the Government had restricted the scope for giving lecturers early retirement.
The number of courses available would be cut and class sizes would increase while the amount of support given to students was likely to be reduced.
The situation was described as "desperate" by Dan Taubman of the lecturers' union, NATFHE. "We are expecting the pain and misery to continue for another year," he said.
Colleges in inner London are among those facing the harshest reductions.
Chrissie Farley, principal of Hackney Community College, said it faced pound;1.4 million cuts with the loss of 34 full-time equivalent jobs next year.
Thirteen inner- London colleges must make 17 per cent spending cuts by 2001.
She said Hackney and the other colleges were all being hit by the problem of financial convergence. Yet because of the FEFC's reduction in grants, the 13 colleges were unable to expand to gain extra revenue.
Some 43 colleges nationwide are hoping for more funds to compensate for the cost of having a large proportion of students from deprived backgrounds. Keighley College in Yorkshire, faces cuts of pound;600,000 and must shed 11 jobs.
Tom Jupp, principal of City and Islington College in north London said it was having to make more than pound;1 million of cuts, mostly by laying off staff although the exact number had yet to be decided.
Adrian Perry, principal of Lambeth College, south London, which is due to axe around 25 jobs as part of a pound;1.5 million package, said: "The situation is pretty grim, people are tired and demoralised. This is the fourth year running we have had to make cuts."