The Scottish Government has been accused of presiding over "the quiet death of further education", as college lecturers held a rally outside of Holyrood.
Members of the EIS-Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA) are engaged in industrial action after rejecting a 2 per cent pay rise in December.
Lecturers have adopted action short of a strike, which means they will only carry out their contracted duties.
As previously reported by The Herald, that means student results will not be uploaded to college systems, potentially denying many of them their places at university.
In addition a full strike is in place at City of Glasgow College as members fight plans for up to 100 compulsory redundancies.
Students, lecturers and union representatives gathered outside Holyrood on Thursday to make their feelings clear, with Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy and Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton among those to speak.
Mr Cole Hamilton said: "I talk about the quiet death of further education, because it has been.
"This is a government which came to power with a First Minister who said, 'judge me on my record' about education. Well, the judgement is in.
"In 2007 the SNP came to power and what did they do? They quietly axed 150,000 further education college places, part-time places which were particularly targeted at the most marginalised groups in our society: particularly single mothers, particularly people with learning difficulties.
"They've been eroding further education ever since and we saw the measurement of that just last month when the government decided, in the teeth of a cost of living crisis, in the teeth of an education crisis, where pay demands are coming left, right and centre to cut £26m from the further education budget.
"This is not a government that has your interests at heart and you shouldn't have this government's interests in your heart either."
Sher Khalid-Ali is a student at New College Lanarkshire in Cumbernauld and could be denied a place at Stirling University if her coursework is not marked.
She and her group, Student Action, stand in support of their lecturers and have stressed the impact they've made on their lives.
Ms Khalid-Ali told the rally: "We have a government who claim to want to end poverty and do nothing to achieve that.
"Adults stuck in poverty are not going to find better jobs without education, there is no way around that.
"We don't go from school to Uni, we have to go to college and we rely on our lecturers - they don't just teach us our subjects, they teach us how to behave, how to be confident, how to act as members of a functioning society.
"We are sick to death, Graeme Dey is the minister for further and higher education - where are you, Graeme?
"Do something or step aside and let someone who actually cares about the sector run it."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Despite facing the most challenging financial environment since devolution the Scottish Government continues to spend nearly £2 billion a year on Scotland’s universities and colleges through the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) alone. We have also increased college estate funding in AY 2023-24, while SFC have introduced new flexibilities for Scotland’s colleges.
“While the Scottish Government is not directly involved in the national collective bargaining process, we would urge college management and its respective trade unions to negotiate in the spirit of collaboration and co-operation. We recognise that students are being adversely affected by this industrial action and we urge all involved to quickly resolve this dispute so that students get the due reward for all their hard work."
Following the rally, EIS-FELA met with Colleges Scotland for further talks on pay and the employer presented that they say is a final offer.
The employers’ pay offers were for a £2,000 pay rise in 2022/23 and a further £1,500 in 2023/24.
Gavin Donoghue, Director of College Employers Scotland said: "This pay offer would provide a £3,500 cumulative pay uplift for the lecturers and would mean college lecturers in Scotland maintain their position as the highest paid college lecturers across the UK.
“Employers are now requesting that the EIS-FELA takes this offer to their members and pause their resulting boycott, which is disrupting the education of college students, as matter of good will."
It's understood the union will reject the offer.
Commenting following Thursday's rally and meeting, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said, “College lecturers have been waiting since September 2022 – now nine whole months amidst a cost-of-living crisis - for a pay award.
"It is unacceptable that after all this time, college employers could only table a marginally improved offer that still amounts to a significant real terms pay cut. The Scottish Government simply cannot stand idly by allowing this situation to persist. It must respond positively to EIS-FELA’s call for emergency funding to address the deepening crisis in further education.”
EIS-FELA President, Anne Marie Harley, said, “The EIS-FELA is fighting for the future of further education and took the case for emergency funding directly to the Scottish Parliament today.
"Following this, college employers decided only to table a completely unacceptable pay offer and presented no plan for addressing the growing crisis in the college sector. There are now only a few weeks to avoid a fiasco whereby students will not receive results, and the blame for this lies squarely with both college employers and the Scottish Government. Both must act now.”