The decision to remove the funding of further education colleges in Northern Ireland from local authorities has led to fears of job losses.
The 17 colleges will in future be financed directly from the Department of Education in a move which effectively creates the same situation in the province as that in England and Wales in the past two years.
The Government says that incorporation of the colleges will increase their independence but lecturers' unions argue that the English experience has not improved college standards.
Management at the colleges say they want to examine the change in detail, but one source commented: "We don't know if this transfer will involve a new formula or if historic levels of funding will remain."
Jim McCusker of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance said the changes were driven by a desire to make financial savings and not by a desire to enhance the quality of education.
Jim McKeown of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education said the real agenda was to push colleges into sharp competition with training agencies and drive down lecturers' pay and conditions.
"This decision has been taken for narrow ideological party reasons and is not in the interests of the education service or the people of Northern Ireland," he added.
Tom McKee of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which also represents lecturers in the province, said there was not a shred of evidence from what had happened in England that the removal of local authority control had led to better further education.
"What has happened in England only proves the Government's determination to tear up lecturers' contracts and their negotiating rights," he said.
However, education minister Michael Ancram argues that it would mean better local control for college governing boards over staff, buildings and the courses they provide and an approved service for students.