UNIONS at Inverness College were yesterday lobbying the board of management against cuts which they claim will see one in six staff lose their jobs, three outlying sites axed, and the curriculum slashed.
The staff are demanding a moratorium on any decisions until after the general election, arguing that political concessions may be won, given that the local constituency is the country's only four-way marginal seat.
But Daniel Wood, the college's director of corporate affairs, said he had seen no sign of further education being a political priority. The college had to work within the Scottish Office funding formula, until the formula changed.
The college was carrying an annual and accumulated deficit, and had to save about Pounds 1.2 million, which could mean the loss of up to 50 of the college's 300 posts, he said.
The college was also looking at rationalising its property, but had no plans to cut any courses.
"In terms of the Scottish further education sector, we are regarded as an inefficient institution," he said.
Principal Janet Price said the college had been well supported by the local authority before incorporation, and had suffered a substantial drop in income as the Scottish Office funding formula drove all colleges towards a common level of support.
"The college has in particular very high staffing costs. It has no choice but to increase its cost effectiveness within the shortest possible timescale," she said.
But John Ward, convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland's college branch, condemned the principal's "timid and negative" stance, and claimed her handling of the crisis could have grave long-term consequences both for the college itself and the University of the Highlands and Islands project.
"She is perceived as being willing to sacrifice her staff rather than risk a telling-off from her political masters," he said.