THE largest college in Scotland has issued a stark warning over the speed at which Government cuts are being implemented.
The newly merged Edinburgh College, which has 35,000 students, said the current rate of budget reductions risked creating a funding crisis that could damage education and lead to compulsory redundancies.
The college also raised concerns about the Government strategy of targeting courses at 16 to 24-year-olds in a bid to tackle youth unemployment, arguing it could disadvantage other groups and damage economic development.
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The warnings come as the Scottish Government presses ahead with its Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill, which proposes radical restructuring of further education.
Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, has drawn up plans for colleges across the country to merge along regional lines to save money and avoid duplication of courses.
At the same time, the Government has brought forward significant cuts to college funding, with budgets declining from £506.9 million in 2012/13 to £470.7m in 2014/15.
In a submission to the Scottish Parliament's education committee, which is scrutinising the legislation, Edinburgh College welcomed the move towards increased strategic planning and accountability.
But the submission added: "We are very worried that this potential positive development will be undermined and damaged because of the pace of change relative to changes in funding and provision. Colleges will have to reduce costs rapidly to remain financially sustainable and there is a risk that opportunities for our students and our communities will be compromised.
"We believe savings and efficiencies can be achieved, but the current pace of financial cuts runs the risk of creating a funding crisis and short-term staffing and educational difficulties which actually militate against the successful achievement of those positive changes. We must have a properly applied pace of change and reform, particularly to funding mechanisms."
Edinburgh College, formed after a merger of Telford College, Jewel & Esk College and Stevenson College, said it would be inevitable some areas of academic activity would cease and issued a warning over enforced job losses.
"There may need to be an element of compulsion if the job reductions required for sustainability are to be achieved," the college added.
On the issue of focusing on 16 to 24-year-olds, the college said the further education sector provided opportunities for all. "We do not impose restrictions here, whether in age, experience or area of work. We feel it is important to retain a flexible approach for the good of both commerce and learners," it said.
"We are concerned a move away from this provision would adversely affect the opportunities for economic development, particularly in our poorest communities."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Colleges have been closely involved in developing proposals for reform and we are committed to reform at a pace which is within the capacity of colleges."