Colleges need to engage more with their "critical friends", the principal of Dundee College told colleagues last week.
Institutions could improve the quality of their provision if they interacted more closely with partners who criticised their work, Christina Potter told Scotland's Colleges' annual conference in Edinburgh. Her own college had benefited from working with critical local employers, she said.
The call for closer partnership between the education sector and the local economy was echoed by Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland.
Rather than going from school into further education or training, more youngsters should go straight into work, he said. "We need more people going straight into the labour market and gaining FE and HE qualifications in the labour market," he said.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said the real impact on students had yet to become clear and it was therefore crucial to continue assessing the success of the reform programme.