Proposals for a University of Cumbria, based in Carlisle, will depend on using the college campuses to serve the large, sparsely populated county, which has no university of its own.
Under the plan drawn up by Sir Martin Harris, head of the office for Fair Access, the new university would be formed out of the existing St Martin's college of higher education and the Cumbria institute for the arts by 2007 or 2008.
Lakes college, Kendal college, Furness college and Carlisle college will form part of what the local Learning and Skills Council calls an "unprecedented" collaboration between FE and HE.
They will deliver their degree-level courses through the new university, and technology would allow teaching on any one campus to be accessed by the others.
Pat Glenday, principal of Lakes college, said a local university could help to address low take-up of higher education in the area.
She said: "It will help us to raise FE students' aspirations if there is local HE provision, in the west of the county in particular."