Colleges lost more working days through staff strike action last year than any other industry, Government figures have revealed.
Action over controversial flexible contracts of employment, designed to improve productivity by increasing hours and cutting holidays, accounted for 63,000 of the 280,000 days lost in disputes across the country.
Half the colleges in the Colleges' Employers' Forum were hit by industrial action. Central Statistical Office figures show that 165 out of 338 were targeted for disruptive action by the lecturers' union NATFHE. A further 35 were the focus of strike action.
Sue Berryman, NATFHE spokesman, said the scale of industrial action was "phenomenal". Though fewer colleges were in dispute this year, many were still resisting CEF contracts, she said.
Roger Ward, CEF chief executive, said: "The previous record holders were the National Union of Mineworkers. The lecturers impact on the country has been markedly less."
The longest strike in FE history, currently in its fourth week at Bolton Metropolitan College, has wreaked havoc upon students. Several have threatened legal action claiming the college has broken its contract by not providing tuition.
The battle over new contracts at Bolton looks likely to be protracted as more than half its lecturers pledged to stay on picket lines indefinitely after talks with management broke down last month.
Peter Hicks said that management's refusal to negotiate had caused widespread disruption. "Management are intent on forcing through this contract. We feel they are being totally irresponsible."
Principal Terry Hogan said the strike had undermined study at the college but only six students had left as a result. "As far as we are concerned it is business as usual."
Patricia Stubbs, FEFC spokeswoman, said the financial impact of the strike was likely to be minimal. "Colleges receive funding for each term a student attends. Bolton had over 11,000 students in 1993-94. If a small number of students leave it will have a minimal effect."