OPPOSITION politicians are hopeful the Scottish Government will "listen to reason" and reverse at least part of the £34.6 million cut facing colleges.

All the major parties have united to lobby for an increase in cash for the sector at a time when courses have been cut and thousands of jobs lost.

On the eve of a crucial debate on the Government's Budget Bill, the Scottish Liberal Democrats said behind-the-scenes talks with Finance Secretary John Swinney on the future of the further education sector had been positive.

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Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish LibDems, said: "We have had two good meetings with the Finance Secretary and I am hopeful we can seek an agreement on the Budget.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats have worked constructively with the Scottish Government, as we did last year, to influence the Budget and that is why we will be asking the SNP to reverse their planned cut."

Earlier, college leaders made a plea for extra funding as they gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's education committee on the Government's controversial Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill.

Under the bill, colleges across the country will merge along regional lines to save money and avoid duplication of courses.

However, colleges argue the funding cuts are happening too quickly.

Paul Sherrington, the principal of Banff and Buchan College, in First Minister Alex Salmond's constituency, said cuts were having a major impact.

He was supported by Mandy Exley, principal of Edinburgh College, who warned the pace of cuts to the sector could create a funding crisis.

Meanwhile, NUS Scotland, which represents students, has also stepped up its campaign to reverse the Government's college funding cuts.

NUS Scotland's Fund Scotland's Future campaign has now secured the support of all opposition parties and has delivered 45,000 emails to MSPs from students, lecturers and the public.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are committed to a successful college sector, but this must include stripping out the duplication and waste which has diverted resources from the direct benefit of young people."