Closing the funding gap in Scotland’s colleges would mean taking money away from schools or hospitals, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Higher and Further Education has claimed.

Graeme Dey was pushed on the eye-watering financial difficulties facing the sector after The Herald exclusively revealed the nearly half-a-billion pound shortfall on Monday as part of our State of Scotland’s Colleges series.

READ MORE: Colleges facing budget gap of nearly half a billion pounds

For the year 2024-25, colleges are due to receive a total of £643,040,000 from the Scottish government; however, inflation since 2021 means that the sector would actually have required more than £834m of funding this year in order to avoid a real-terms cut to their budgets.

Over the three year period since 2021-22, the total combined budget gap stands at more than £464m.

Mr Dey said the Scottish Government was facing “extraordinary financial challenges” after “years of austerity,”

The minister said he disputed The Herald’s figure though he accepted that there was a “gap”.

“However, how could it be otherwise given the financial challenges this government faces?” he asked.

He said opposition MSPs and others agitating for more money for colleges would need to say “where in the education or wider Scottish Government budget they would take these monies from.”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said colleges were “critically important to Scotland's people, communities and the economy and crucial to delivering on the Scottish Government's priorities” but were being asked to do more with less.

“This sounds like Groundhog Day,” Mr Dey replied. “Yet again, we have the opposition coming to the chamber and asking for more funding, that's fine but our budget's been decimated by his party's decisions at Westminster “And of course, the cost of living crisis visited on us, all of us, our colleges included, by the Tories is relevant to this as well.

“So if he wants more money for colleges where is it going to come from? something would have to give.

“What are the Conservatives suggesting we cut to invest more in colleges?

“Is it our schools? Is it our hospitals? Because that's the stark choice that everyone has to face.”

READ MORE: Deep dive: exploring the key stats for Scotland's college sector

The Scottish Funding Council has identified three colleges which they say are facing "significant cash flow issues", but declined to name them citing concerns that the dangerous financial situation and strained relationships could be pushed to a breaking point.

Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie asked the minister to “assure the parliament that no college will be allowed to close.”

Mr Dey said “extensive work” was being undertaken to ensure the college at risk “can move towards a sustainable footing.”

“These are not easy times for some colleges there are very significant long-term systemic challenges that they face. But the Scottish Funding Council is extremely active in this space to try and ensure that these colleges are helped into a more secure future.”

Labour’s Pam Duncan Glancy said the Government was “behaving like they're not the Government.”

“Colleges across Scotland have identified the same problems, chronic funding gaps, fewer students, a drop in student support and staff striking for fair pay. One thing that is consistent is that it's all happened on this Government's watch.”

She urged the minister to “stop this slopey shouldered” approach and step in to support students and staff.

Mr Dey said Labour was “behaving like a party not fit for opposition nevermind government.”

“You cannot come to this chamber and rattle off a list of demand - and this is the college sector alone - without in any way identifying how that would be funded. That is reckless.”