Agencies which supply part-time lecturers are calling on the Government to require their staff to be trained teachers - the same as those employed directly by colleges.
The agencies are anxious for their staff not to be seen as second-rate once lecturers on college contracts are required to hold teaching qualifications.
From September, new full-time and part-time lecturers and new part-timers on permanent contracts must have a Certificate of Education, or equivalent, within two to four years of taking up their post. Most other part-time teachers will be required to gain new intermediate qualifications.
Ministers have still to decide what to do about agency lecturers, some of whom spread their hours across different colleges. Others teach regularly in the same place but do not have a contract of employment with either the college or their agency.
Richard Eve, executive director of Education Lecturing Services, the largest agency, said he had asked civil servants at the Department for Education and Employment what will happen to agency lecturers, but had not received an informative reply. "They are still fairly clueless about the definition of a part-time tutor," he said.
Only about 9,000 - or 15 per cent - of the 60,000 lecturers on the ELS database do not already hold teaching qualifiations. "It's not in our interest to provide people who are inadequately qualified," said Mr Eve.
A survey published last month by the Further Education National Training Organisation showed that 11 per cent of full-time and 28 per cent of part-time lecturers employed by colleges do not hold qualifications in line with the new requirements.
New staff who join teacher-training courses will be fully funded by the Government. Colleges must pay half the cost of training existing lecturers - although it will not be mandatory for staff employed before September 2001 to gain qualifications.
The problem for the Government will be in deciding whether staff supplied by agencies after September are counted as new or existing lecturers, and who should pay for their training. Although ELS advises lecturers on professional development, it mostly relies on colleges with teacher-training departments offering discounts to agency staff, rather than offering any direct financial support.
Tracey Bovingdon, director of Nord Anglia Education Personnel, said her company operated under tight margins and would expect colleges to pay towards the cost - either directly or through higher charges. "We have got to make every effort to make part-time agency lecturers feel part of the same system," she added.