Colleges have moved a step closer to strike action after lecturers rejected a new pay offer.

Members of the Further Education Lecturers’ Association - part of the Educational Institute of Scotland - voted overwhelmingly to reject the latest cost of living pay offer.

Union leaders said the increase, equivalent to a 2.5 per cent rise over three years, would result in a real terms pay cut for lecturers.

However, college bosses hit out at the “intransigent” approach to pay discussions.

In 2016 it was announced that lecturers would be able to earn up to £40,000 under a new agreement to harmonise pay across the sector following a series of national mergers.

The employers side said the latest offer would take that to £45,000 costing the sector at extra £60 million.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “This vote is an overwhelming rejection of the pay offer and signifies the strength of feeling of our members.

“This dispute is about a cost of living pay rise and ensuring that lecturers’ pay keeps up with inflation.

“At a time when the sector would benefit from stability, it is regrettable that management are conflating the provision of equal pay with a cost of living pay increase, creating a barrier to further negotiation.”

Mr Flanagan called on college managers to return with an improved offer to “avoid the risk of industrial action”.

A spokeswoman for the Colleges Scotland employers’ association said officials were “disappointed, but not surprised” at the move.

She added: “The union has continually refused to engage seriously in the process and has demanded a colossal pay increase on top of an extremely generous rise resulting from national bargaining.

“A pay rise is a pay rise irrespective of how it is delivered, so it is deceptive to try and conveniently forget the huge increases and improvements in terms and conditions from national bargaining.”

“If the union continues with their grandstanding and mendacious claims they would completely undermine the delivery of the college sector jeopardising jobs.”

The ballot saw a 60 per cent turn-out with 90 per cent of members who voted supporting a rejection of the deal.