Scotland’s colleges face a £51.9 million funding cut that could cause a “skills emergency”, according to the body that represents them.

Bosses at Colleges Scotland (CS) said larger class sizes and frozen recruitment were among “noticeable changes" in the pipeline unless the draft Budget is amended.

They told Finance Secretary Kate Forbes that her current plans would mean a £23.9m hit to further education (FE) institutions due to inflation, with an additional £28m removed because of the loss of Covid-19 funding received previously. 

The alert comes ahead of this week's Stage 1 Budget Debate in the Scottish Parliament. Ken Milroy MBE, CS Chair, said colleges were in a “real emergency”.

READ MORE: SNP Ministers warned over 'lack of investment' for colleges and universities

He added: “The debate on Thursday should focus on the perilous choices some colleges will now have to make, and on the significant challenge this draft Budget poses for the next academic year. 

“The total funding loss of £51.9 million means, for example, freezing recruitment, outsourcing support activities, possible changes to temporary contracts, increasing class sizes and consolidating classes. 

“All of these would be a last resort, however after years of under investment this Budget leaves no more space to manoeuvre in. Unless there are improvements to the Budget, noticeable changes to colleges are inevitable.”

Mr Milroy also warned the draft Budget would leave Scotland at risk of “sliding into a skills emergency”. 

He said: “Even in the midst of a pandemic, colleges have provided world-class education and training to hundreds of thousands of students. 

“But in order to continue there has to be investment based in reality. Scotland’s recovery depends on creating year after year a workforce that is qualified and able – but with the proposed Budget settlement, colleges will be challenged in ways not seen for many years.” 

HeraldScotland: There are growing fears over how the Scottish Budget will affect colleges.There are growing fears over how the Scottish Budget will affect colleges.

CS leaders said the forecast funding cut had been calculated without bringing increased pay and rising energy costs into account. 

Colleges were already facing a series of pressures prior to the impact of Covid-19. These included cost of living pay awards, employers’ pension contributions, changes in National Insurance costs, maintaining the college estate, and the UK’s exit from the European Union.

And, last week, Audit Scotland reported that a lack of leadership around Scotland’s skills agenda was harming economic objectives. 

Mr Milroy said: “The great irony around leadership in the skills sector is that colleges locally and regionally already deliver exceptional results in training, upskilling and re-skilling people for what their local economies need. More investment in colleges would bring even better outcomes.”

His remarks come after Shona Struthers, CS chief executive, and Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, issued a joint letter that claims cuts in the latest Budget are part of an “established overall pattern of a lack of investment”. Their missive also says the trend has “put real pressure on our students, staff and infrastructure”.

It states: “We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to present a multi-year budget and the opportunity for stakeholders to inform the Scottish Government’s thinking. However, the outcome of the 2022/23 budget sends the deeply unfortunate signal that the Scottish Government does not fully recognise the role that colleges and universities play in the critical delivery of education, skills, and research, which absolutely support economic recovery and transformation.”

READ MORE: University and college bosses attack Budget

Jamie Hepburn, Further and Higher Education Minister, said: “Our colleges, universities and their staff are vital to our COVID recovery and we recognise the importance of sustainable funding, not only to the stability of our institutions but also the learning experience and well-being of our students.

“Throughout the pandemic colleges have demonstrated resilience and flexibility to continue delivering the courses to produce a skilled workforce. They are instrumental in any economic recovery strategy - working with the small and medium sized enterprise base on upskilling and re-skilling.

“In our 2022-23 Budget we will provide over £1.9 billion for Scotland’s universities and colleges – protecting their role in driving an inclusive economy, delivering high quality education and training for the future workforce. We know our colleges face significant financial challenges which have been exacerbated by the pandemic but we are working closely with them to mitigate the effects of the crisis.”