UNIONS have recommended that members accept a breakthrough pay offer for college staff.
However, they have warned there may still be strikes unless the agreed rise is paid in full at all colleges.
Ivor Jones, the Association of Colleges' employment policy director, said the deal, offering 6 per cent over two years, will "provide stability in industrial relations and give colleges and staff a longer-term view of recommended pay awards for planning purposes".
But Barry Lovejoy, national colleges officer for lecturers' union Natfhe, warned of strikes unless the award, negotiated by the AoC, is paid in full.
Natfhe claims 41 per cent of colleges have so far failed to fully implement the 3.5 per cent pay deal for 20023.
Nevertheless, it describes the offer as "a significant step" towards pay parity with school teachers and says members should accept it.
Mr Lovejoy said the union would be pressing principals on pay. He said: "We will be writing to every principal in the country and asking for their commitment to implement both years of the deal and explaining that those colleges which don't agree can expect disputes.
"We will also be expecting those lecturers at the top of the scale to be moved to the top of the new scale - which means an increase of 14 per cent over two years."
The deal was thrashed out in the national forum which includes the AoC, lecturer unions, the Association for College Management and Unison, which represents support staff. The pay offer is:
* All salaries and allowances to be increased by 3 per cent from August 1, 2003, and a further 3 per cent from August 1, 2004.
* A minimum starting salary of pound;19,518 for qualified lecturers compared with pound;18,105 for schoolteachers, and, for support staff, a minimum hourly rate of pound;5.33 an hour, rising to pound;6 an hour in 2004.
* The 14-point pay scale to be reduced to eight points, each worth 6 per cent for lecturers.
* By August 2004, lecturers will be able to earn up to pound;30,705, or pound;33,267 if they do "advanced teaching and training".
Lecturers' salaries have increased by 1.1 per cent in real terms between 1997, when Labour came to power, and 2001, according to ministers. This compares to 7.3 per cent for secondary school teachers over the same period - and 6.9 per cent for primary teachers.
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the ACM, said: "The real issue is implementation and getting as many colleges to sign up as possible. I don't think the argument that they can't afford it holds any longer. The increase is less than the increase in funding that colleges will get over the next two years."
Chris Wilson, chair of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' FE committee, said: "We will be vigorous in making national deals stick locally."
The Office for Standards in Education fears the salary gap could undermine the role of colleges in providing vocational courses for teenagers. It recommended this week that the Government "review the pay and conditions of school teachers and lecturers to ensure greater comparability for similar work".