One college which believes it has finally put its financial troubles behind it is Clydebank, where academic staff last week overwhelmingly backed a salary increase which will be worth an extra 8 per cent to them by July next year - with no strings attached in relation to working conditions or job losses. This compares with last year's 3.5 per cent.
The rise averaged over 2005-06 will cost 6.1 per cent, which will come in three separate stages - 5 per cent from August, 2 per cent from February and 1 per cent from July.
While the award is the most generous negotiated for FE lecturers so far this year by the Educational Institute of Scotland, Matt Mochar, the principal at Clydebank, said it was very much a "catching-up exercise" to make salaries competitive.
After 34 pay settlements for 2004 recorded by the EIS by the end of March, lecturers at the top of the pay scale earned an average of pound;28,731, with Clydebank just behind on pound;28,059 (the top rate, at James Watt College, will hit pound;31,483 in October).
"We were keen to reward staff for the very hard work they have been doing in ensuring the college reaches financial viability," Mr Mochar said. Over a period, 22 academic and five support staff have been made redundant.
The college is now predicting surpluses of pound;270,000 over the next couple of years and healthy balances thereafter - a very different picture from that in the late 1990s when the Government was forced to bail out Clydebank.
The industrial relations climate has improved dramatically, with the EIS counting agreements on 17 new policies. These cover alcohol, drugs and staff induction, as well as historically more fraught issues such as grievance and discipline procedures, absence management and flexible working.
Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, said the changed atmosphere was welcome. "It represents a turnaround at a college where there was only a run of bad news and permanent warfare. The corner now seems to have been turned, not only on pay but on a range of other human resource matters as well."