FE's largest union has warned that colleges expected to push through tens of thousands of job losses will face strikes, as it set out its opposition to the Government's spending cuts.
The University and College Union (UCU) also said members would not accept pay freezes to protect jobs, as colleges warned that their budgets may be cut by the equivalent of 20,000 jobs a year.
Barry Lovejoy, head of the UCU, said: "We have seen numerous local disputes emerging over the past year: unfortunately, there is likely to be a similar response. I think there's a good chance that the Government has bitten off more than it can chew in terms of the scale of its cuts across the public sector. It's underestimated the reaction: I think it will be on a scale with the poll tax."
Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at teaching union ATL, said: "The effects of this will be devastating. I can't understand what the Government expects to achieve with cuts of this magnitude when there's a skills shortage, as employers say there is."
The Association of College's (AoC) principals' policy forum met yesterday to consider its response to cuts, which the AoC warns will be "severe and potentially worse than we had led to believe earlier in the summer".
It said the highest level of cuts modelled by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) would mean annual cuts of pound;300 million to pound;400 million for four years.
Julian Gravatt, the AoC's assistant chief executive, warned that courses championed by government ministers, such as construction and engineering, could be most at risk because of the expense of their facilities and equipment.
Andy Wilson, principal of Westminster Kingsway College, said colleges expected to maintain student numbers on a reduced rate of funding needed more flexibility to offer courses with less contact time and more distance learning.
"We've been trying to maximise the size of groups for years and staff have done a magnificent job, but there's only so far you can go," he said. "We need to look for more flexibility in funding so we can do more distance learning, online learning, flexible learning."
At the moment, courses are funded on the assumption of a certain amount of guided learning hours, which restricts colleges from cutting classroom time.
Norman Cave, principal of Bournville College, said colleges with buildings under construction faced particular difficulties, as they financed them on the basis of "nominal growth" only to face substantial cuts. He said his college had already had to turn away 1,000 students, 10 per cent of its total adult provision, because of cuts this year.
David Pullein, chair of the College Finance Directors' Group, said he expected Train to Gain to disappear completely, putting some colleges heavily invested in the provision in difficulty.