Political opponents called for the SNP to provide significant extra funding for the further education sector to allow more students to go to college. The call came after a snapshot survey by The Herald revealed that colleges across Scotland are turning away thousands of applicants.
Hugh Henry, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, called it "economic vandalism of Scotland's future", and added: "The SNP's decision to target our colleges for cuts has slammed the door shut on at least 10,000 Scots. With nearly 100,000 young people unemployed and many older people being forced to re-train for new jobs, we need serious investment in our colleges to meet the growing demand."
Liam McArthur, of the Scottish LibDems, said: "The number of would-be students denied access to courses is alarming, and college principals confirm SNP guarantees that college places will be maintained are not being honoured."
The Scottish Government said spending on colleges for this year had been increased, and officials suggested it is not unusual for students to apply to multiple colleges. However, while college principals accept the figures may include some duplication, they believe that cannot explain the sheer scale of the waiting lists.
Teaching grants in further education have been cut by more than 10% in each of the past two years, with further deep cuts planned for the next two. That has led to the number of lecturing staff being cut by more than 1800. Colleges have also been tasked with a major restructuring exercise, with many deciding to merge along regional lines.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "No-one can understand why, when there is considerable unemployment among young people and business leaders are complaining about a lack of skilled workers, college budgets have been slashed."
The largest waiting list was at City of Glasgow College, where there are as many as 8000 applicants who cannot find courses. North Glasgow College, in Springburn, said some of its most popular courses, including plumbing, beauty and nursing, were oversubscribed by some 2000 people.
Motherwell College, in North Lanarkshire, said it had a waiting list of 800, while West Lothian College in Livingston said it had a waiting list of 550 people. Other colleges that confirmed they had high demand for courses, but could not supply figures, included James Watt in Greenock and Forth Valley College in Falkirk.
However, a Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have increased college budgets this year, providing the funding necessary to meet our commitment to maintain student numbers. We are also delivering on our pledge that every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland not in education, training or a job is guaranteed an offer of a place in education or training."