The Scottish Further Education Funding Council has received a mixed response to its first allocations to Scotland's 47 further education colleges.
The Association of Scottish Colleges praised the 8 per cent rise in recurrent grants as a welcome vote of confidence in the benefits of further education for students, particularly those from deprived areas.
Henry McLeish, Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said the "record-breaking" Pounds 325 million funding package would help repair previous underfunding, widen access and support capital investment and advances in information technology. In return, he expected colleges to develop more effective partnerships to boost local strategic and economic initiatives and to improve social justice.
Robert Kay, the ASC chairman, said: "All of the colleges are committed to wider access, particularly for the most disadvantaged people. The extra cash for teaching and for college bursaries will make it easier for the sector to do more."
The ASC said the extra money was intended to secure up to 20,000 extra, mainly part-time, places. It welcomes the Scottish Executive's commitment to fund student support for an extra 4,000 full-time places.
The SFEFC's aim has been to create a transparent funding model, offering financial predictability and helping forward planning. Mr McLeish said the settlement would help stabilise the colleges' financial health.
SFEFC safety-netted 14 colleges that would otherwise have suffered a cut, while others have had increases of up to 29 per cent. But the ASC said the variation was wider than expected. The colleges with the safety-netted 2 per cent cash increase would have no increase in real terms, despite the requirement for extra teaching and growth in the coming year.
"It is worrying that so many colleges have been put in the position, yet again, of having to prepare 'recovery plans'," Mr Kay said. "In time, the new funding formula will give a more reliable basis for colleges to plan ahead. In the short term, however, (14) colleges will be in a very tight position to achieve financial health and to reward staff adequately."