The purpose, according to the Association of Scottish Colleges, should be "to satisfy student demand for fulfilment, employer require-ment for employability and society's needs for contribution and inclusion as citizens".
The committee of MSPs is due to kick off its investigation next month, covering "the needs and aspirations of individuals and of society as a whole".
The association underlines the crucial importance of lifelong learning, arguing that "80 per cent of those who will be working in 10 years' time are already of working age".
It offers a fine distinction between education whose aim is to acieve "work-readiness" and training for "job-readiness".
The association comments: "Investment in education increases with attainment and decreases with educational disadvantage. Those who learn fastest gain the best places and jobs and invest more in their continuing education.
"Those who fall behind get least in terms of per capita investment and opportunity. Public investment in lifelong learning needs to give priority to those who need it most."
The association suggest a "lifetime learning account" for all post-school activities. This would comprise a right to study in and out of work, a learning plan, an entitlement to student support and a record of attainment and investment.
FE is "the linchpin of lifelong learning", the ASC states.