College leaders are looking for an explanation from ministers over "puzzling" differences in the treatment of the further and higher education sectors in the Scottish Executive's spending review.
Tom Kelly, chief executive of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said colleges were perfectly happy with the allocations for the first two years of the review, up to 2007. But in 2007-08, the amount for the FE funding council rises by pound;17 million to pound;619 million, whereas HE receives another pound;70 million to bring its total to pound;1 billion.
The ASC says universities are already receiving 60 per cent more than colleges via the funding councils, and the gap will widen to 65 per cent in 2007-08. "We will be watching to see what policies and priorities ministers will be setting for 2007-08," Mr Kelly said. "We appreciate that it is three years away and we do have time."
He warned that colleges already have a low unit of resource because of the productivity gains of the past few years.
Jim Wallace, Lifelong Learning Minister, has set three fresh priorities for colleges in the spending review period - improving buildings and facilities, stepping up links with schools and pay modernisation.
Overhauling the salaries structure came as a surprise to most observers and no details are yet available from the Executive.
An Executive spokesperson pointed out that taking one year in isolation does not provide the full picture. Increases for FE between 2002-03 and 2007-08 amounted to 47 per cent in cash terms and 29 per cent in real terms; the rise for HE is comparable, by 48 per cent in cash terms and 30 per cent in real terms.
Colleges will also be seeking clarification from the Executive on what Mr Kelly called the "cryptic" description of the objective set in the spending review - to "maintain and build on the high percentage of all higher education student enrolments at further education colleges who complete their programme of study".