A £30 MILLION cut to university budgets has been described as "deeply worrying", by lecturer unions.

Four of Scotland's biggest universities face the largest reductions from this year's funding settlement with Finance Secretary John Swinney who announced an average 3.3 per cent cut for universities across the board.

Those facing the biggest percentage cuts are Edinburgh University, where funding is falling by £6.1 million, Aberdeen University, down £2.7 million, Dundee University, £2.5 million, and Robert Gordon University, £1.4 million.

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It follows private warnings from Dundee University principal Professor Sir Pete Downes that there was a "real threat" to financial sustainability with an expected deficit of £8m to £10m on the horizon this year.

Sir Downes came underfire earlier this month after being awarded a 15 per cent pay increase with his salary leaping to £261,000 after changes to his pension arrangements.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, warned of challenging times ahead and said it was vital future funding deals after the election are "used to support universities at sustainable levels in order to meet the nation's ambitions for its higher education sector".

And he added: "Only then can we make our maximum contribution to Scotland by maintaining the sector's excellence and competitiveness on the world stage, and ensuring institutions are accessible to all learners with the ability to succeed."

The settlement for universities from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) will see slightly more than £915 million shared out among 19 institutions, including Glasgow School of Art and Scotland's Rural College.

Laurence Howells, chief executive of the SFC said the deal was made amid "a tough climate" for public spending and protected smaller institutions like the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland whose budget remained untouched and were "vulnerable to fluctuations in their income".

But Mary Senior, Scotland official at the University and College Union, refused to accept a diminished funding deal was grounds for universities to cut staff numbers.

She said: “These are disappointing figures which will be deeply worrying for our members working in universities. "If university principals can find the money to award themselves pay rises of up to 15 per cent, then we can find savings to keep the hard working staff who carry out the research and teaching that currently makes our universities world leading.”

A spokesman for University of Dundee - who face £2.5 million of cuts - said: "We are disappointed to be one of those institutions suffering the largest percentage cut, especially given how well we have delivered against the policy priorities of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council in areas such as widening access to Scottish students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"We anticipate setting a deficit budget for next year and are already working across the University on plans for both increased income generation and cost savings which will address this.”

Former teacher Iain Gray MSP, Scottish Labour's opportunity spokesperson, said urged the Scottish Government to use new tax-raising powers to safeguard university funding.

He said: “Scotland’s universities should be the envy of the world, but under the SNP Government they are set to suffer brutal cuts.

"We don’t need to accept cuts that will undermine Scotland’s future. Given the choice between these cuts and using the powers of the Scottish Parliament Scottish Labour would use the powers to stop the cuts."

But Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “The Scottish Government has invested more than £4 billion in Scotland’s higher education sector in the last four years and, notwithstanding a very tough budget round, 2016/17 will be the fifth year where investment has topped £1 billion.

“This level of investment allows our institutions to remain internationally competitive and truly excellent in global terms, while ensuring that Higher Education for eligible Scots residents remains free."