THE full cost of delivering national pay scales for lecturers in Scottish colleges could be as much as £117 million over the next three years, an industry body has warned.

Colleges Scotland said pay harmonisation - which also includes recurring costs of £50m a year - would lead to a poorer experience for students unless it was properly funded.

The figures are contained in a written submission to the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, which is looking at the financial health of further education.

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The papers state: “National bargaining is a significant financial challenge for colleges.

“Without additional resource year on year, the ongoing costs are

not affordable or sustainable for the sector and would impact severely on the student experience.”

In its manifesto for the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections the SNP pledged to introduce national pay bargaining for colleges as part of wider reforms of the sector, including a host of mergers.

Under the previous system of local bargaining, significant differences opened up in terms and conditions, with some staff earning as much as £12,000 more for a similar job.

An agreement in March 2016 established £40,000 as the top of the salary scale for an unpromoted lecturer, with increases phased in over three years.

However, lecturers went out on strike earlier this year after the deadline for the first instalment passed without payments being made after deadlock over the reforms to terms and conditions college bosses wanted.

Concern over the affordability of national pay harmonisation comes against a wider background of concern over college finances.

A recent review of colleges by public services watchdog Audit Scotland found financial health in the sector remains ”relatively stable” but had deteriorated since 2014/15.

Colleges Scotland chief executive Shona Struthers said: “What is seen here is the culmination of the effect of policy and investment decisions taken over a number of years by the Scottish Government.”

The Scottish Government’s director general of education Paul Johnston said the Audit Scotland report had found the sector was financially stable overall and that colleges continued to exceed their targets for student learning.