Drastic cuts to college budgets could lead to a deterioration in the quality of further education provision and a cut in the number of student places in the sector, principals have warned in an open letter to the Education Secretary.
John Spencer, convener of Scotland's Colleges' Principals' Convention, and Graham Johnstone, chair of the same organisation's Chairs' Congress, have told Michael Russell that they could offer no commitment on compulsory redundancies as a result of a cut in the FE budget of 13.5 per cent over the next three years.
The impact of staffing reductions on provision could "not be overstated", they added.
The Scotland's Colleges letter issued a further warning to the Education Secretary - that the SNP's manifesto commitment to retain student numbers at colleges over the lifetime of this Parliament could not be delivered under the terms of the budget announced last week.
Finance Secretary John Swinney's comprehensive spending review will see the overall core budget for FE colleges reduced by pound;74 million - from pound;544.7m this year to pound;470.7m in 2014-15. Last year the sector suffered a 10 per cent cut in funding. This could translate into a real terms reduction of 20 per cent, said Scotland's Colleges.
A letter of guidance issued by Mr Russell to the Scottish Funding Council sets out that the college sector should achieve provision for all 16 to 19-year-olds from next year, improvements in retention, better support services and changes to course content.
But Mr Spencer and Mr Johnstone said colleges' ability to deliver these demands would be seriously compromised by the cuts. And with half of the cuts to hit in the first year of the budget, it was "inconceivable" the necessary savings could be achieved through mergers, they added.
"This is undoubtedly going to be a very difficult settlement," Scottish Funding Council chief executive Mark Batho told the Parliament's Education Committee on Tuesday.
Scotland's Colleges issued a statement this week that following discussions with the Education Secretary over its open letter, Mr Spencer had said he was "fully committed to working constructively with the Scottish Government on its reform agenda".
Mr Johnstone had also reiterated the commitment of Scotland's Colleges to work with the Government and the SFC on college reform.
By contrast, universities will see funding increase by pound;135.5m over the next three years to ensure they maintain a "world-class reputation".
10% - Funding cut from FE last year.