Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, was dubbed "the invisible man of higher education" by David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers.
Mr Robertson was "not so much a minister without portfolio but a portfolio without a minister", Mr Bleiman said. Since he had taken over responsibility for higher education he had not been seen on campus to witness the damage from "efficiency gains".
Funds available to teaching and research had been cut by 3 per cent and redundancies are "on the agenda". Casualisation of staff and fixed-term contracts would be accelerated, despite lecturers working on average 53 hours a week and during holidays.
David Baillie, Scottish Further and Higher Education Association, condemned repeated cuts in overall spending. One college, Mr Baillie said, had a 19.25 per cent rise in student numbers but only a 7.8 per cent increase in funding. Another had grown by 15 per cent but received 3 per cent while a third had 13.4 per cent growth but experienced a 5 per cent fall in funding.
"How in the name of sanity are colleges supposed to plan in the midst of this?" Mr Baillie asked.
However, Mr Baillie believed most colleges had made a success of "incorporation", a view not shared by Elinor McKenzie, former president of the College Lecturers' Association branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who described it as "a disaster".