A 152,000 drop in college students since the SNP came to power was a deliberate move to eliminate part-time courses that were not considered high quality or capable of providing real benefits, Skills Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has said.

Ms Cunningham suggested previous figures may have been inflated by double or triple counting of students taking multiple short courses that would "not necessarily" result in real long-term benefits.

The number of full-time equivalent places at Scotland's colleges rose in 2014/15 but the overall headcount dropped by more than 10,000, the Scottish Funding Council revealed on Thursday.

Student headcount for 2014/15 was 226,919, down 4.8% from 238,399 in 2013/14 and down from more than 379,000 in 2007/08.

The SFC said it expected to see a decrease in headcount from 2008/09 as colleges were asked to prioritise more "substantive courses" and reduce the number of students enrolled on leisure programmes and very short courses.

Ms Cunningham told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We have aligned the college offer with the needs of employers so that we are moving from college students along a track where we are delivering full-time courses that are actually aligned to employment and further education, instead of a myriad of short part-time courses.

"Colleges are also aligning a lot more with the apprenticeship system.

"So, there has been a big change but it has been deliberately to ensure that what is being offered in colleges is of very high quality.

"It will result in colleges either being able to continue with education in a full-time sense or move into employment in a far more sustainable way than some of the kinds of courses that were being offered before.

"One person could be signing up to two or three different courses, counting two or three times in the figures, but actually not necessarily being in the kinds of courses that would result in real long-term benefits."

Ms Cunningham also said the Scottish Government has "limited means" to influence the jobs market after a Holyrood committee urged them to do more to drive up employment standards and eliminate poor working practices.

The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee acknowledged the Scottish Government has some limitations with employment law, health and safety and industrial relations legislation reserved to Westminster, but pointed out that economic development is devolved.

Ms Cunningham said: "Employment law is reserved to Westminster, so we have some limited means by which we can affect change.

"In the main, we need to change the debate around this and to convince businesses large and small that the changes that we would like to make will be to their benefit in the long run."

She said better working conditions lead to better productivity and lower staff turnover.