Some 7,000 jobs are at risk across English colleges as cuts of nearly pound;200 million threaten to close scores of adult training courses.
The brunt of the potential redundancies, enough to staff seven medium- sized colleges, may fall on people delivering frontline courses designed for employment, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC).
An AoC survey has revealed that courses in engineering, construction, electrical installation, catering, security, hospitality and care are the areas likely to be hit by cuts to adult learner-responsive (ALR) budgets.
The survey of 147 colleges showed an average budget cut of 16 per cent, amounting to the loss of pound;191 million from providers' 201011 budgets.
A breakdown shows that almost a third of the 147 respondents expect a 25 per cent cut in their adult funding for 201011, with the same number looking at cuts of 15 to 24 per cent, and 40 per cent at cuts of 10 to 14 per cent. Just three respondents expect cuts of less than 10 per cent.
College principals are furious at the scale of the cuts and the fact that they will hit courses, students and staff, despite what the Government has said publicly about the need to protect frontline provision.
Keith Elliott, principal of City of Bristol College, said his college faced a 17 per cent cut to its adult learning budget which, on current estimates, could result in the loss of a quarter of its ALR-stream students and significant job cuts. Its respected part-time aeronautical engineering courses are among those at risk, he said.
"I am astonished by these cuts," Mr Elliott said. "They are in complete contradiction to the Government's statements on frontline services."
Principals also say they cannot understand the rationale used by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) to decide which courses are designated as core, and thus protected, and which are exposed to cuts as non- core.
Jackie Fisher, chief executive of the Newcastle College Group, said: "I have never experienced such a lack of transparency in a funding process. It does not allow colleges to understand whether the percentage they are being asked to cut is right or not."
Giving evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee inquiry into FE on Tuesday, AoC chief executive Martin Doel said: "We're facing 7,000 redundancies. That need not happen if we have flexibility. The Government has made some proposals in this area and we need to see them through."
The LSC said that it had worked hard to make this "the most transparent allocations process that we have ever implemented".
A statement said: "We have actively engaged the AoC and the Association of Learning Providers in discussions over many months about how funding priorities will impact upon the sector and those discussions continue now that we are implementing those priorities.
"The LSC and the Skills Funding Agency will continue to work with colleges that get into difficulty, to ensure that we secure sufficient provision of high quality FE."
Meanwhile, Welsh colleges said they face a 3 per cent cut to core funding overall. The Welsh Assembly government said funding for FE would rise by 5.85 per cent, taking the total for 201011 to pound;307 million.