Colleges plunged Pounds 112 million into the red last year after total debts in the further education sector increased 18-fold in just two years, new figures revealed this week.
The Further Education Funding Council announced that total college debts had leapt to Pounds 112m last year from just Pounds 6m in 199394.
As many as 19 colleges had to be bailed out by the FEFC, while others needed support from their bankers.
The figures in the FEFC annual report come as the number of colleges in a weak financial state jumped by a third to 93 - more than 20 per cent of all colleges.
Union leaders accused ministers of leaving the FE sector out of the funding picture - despite cash windfalls for schools and universities.
The lecturers' union NATFHE today launched a national lobbying campaign to press for a Pounds 250m cash injection in FE, on the eve of the Association of Colleges annual conference.
Education Secretary David Blunkett has said he was trying to find more money for colleges. But Government sources said it was too early to say whether he would announce new funding plans at the Harrogate conference.
Research by the union shows 15,000 lecturers have been sacked in the past three years.
NATFHE negotiating secretary Sue Berryman said: "College lecturers welcomed the Government's priority of education, education, education. So far further education has been left out of the picture. " The campaign comes as funding chiefs and college inspectors fired their own broadside at ministers over the cash crisis.
Writing in the Further Education Funding Council's annual report, its chief executive David Melville warned that colleges would be unable to carry out Government policy if more cash was not available.
And FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson, whose annual report was also out this week, warned that efforts to increase participation rates in colleges would be hampered.
Melville on funding, and Donaldson Report, see Page 28