Colleges are furious at unexpectedly high bills for their vocational courses after an awarding body said its fees would rise by up to 20 per cent. The decision by the Business & Technology Education Council (BTEC) led to calls for urgent talks because it came so late in colleges' budgeting process.
One large Manchester college said it would have to find an extra Pounds 20,000 to pay the increased rates.
The Colleges' Employers' Forum wants an emergency meeting with BTEC chief exeutive Christina Townsend to see if the rises can be cut and to decide on a more suitable timetable for future announcements. The Association for Colleges has written demanding an urgent explanation.
CEF chief executive Roger Ward said: "This increase has thrown budgets up and down the country into chaos. A medium-sized college pays Pounds 100,000 to BTEC and the size of this increase is enormous.
"Questions are being asked by colleges - is there any evidence of serious cost-cutting by BTEC? There is also a feeling that there is effectively a monopoly provider situation."
BTEC's prices are normally announced in January. The main rises are for GNVQs and NVQs, requiring at least four external tests to be marked by BTEC, which must also assess and verify other work and provide registration and certification.
"The cost of delivering GNVQs are much higher than the traditional BTEC areas and one of the key reasons are the external testing costs," said John Tate, BTEC's director of corporate planning and development. "We did write in January and advise that our notification of prices would be delayed."