A leading academic has called on the Government to come clean over her discovery that half the cash that further education colleges spend on vocational training for young people and the unemployed is provided by the European Union.
Professor Jacky Brine claims that the amount of money the EU provides through the European Social Fund enables it to have huge influence in the FE sector and largely dictates government policy over vocational training.
Professor Brine, research director of education at the University of the West of England in Bristol, adds that this could be why the Government is anxious to conceal the level of EU funding in the sector, which she says amounts to pound;3.4 billion between 2000 and 2006.
She believes the influence exerted by the EU extends to the key policies of establishing a post-14 vocational curriculum, and allowing young people aged 14-plus to transfer to FE.
She also suspects that the EU has influenced the policy and set up the funding route for FE colleges to seek centre of vocational excellence status.
In the past two years more than 200 colleges have applied for CoVE status.
The CoVE initiative was set up in 2001 to bring colleges together with business and industry in order to deliver specialist vocational training to meet local employment needs.
Professor Brine says: "It is likely that the ESF is a major source of funding for these new initiatives, given that we already know the significant role that the ESF has played in match-funding youth and adult employment programmes.
"However, the links between these initiatives and the ESF have yet to be proven."
In a paper Professor Brine recently presented in Hamburg, she said: "The social fund match-funds a vast amount, and in the case of the UK all the vocational training programmes are for unemployed adults and young people.
Yet within the UK the source of this funding is seldom, if ever, acknowledged as such by the Government."
She added: "When introducing new VET (vocational education and training) programmes, the UK government never points to the requirement placed on them by the commission to do so.
"In accessing the money, the member state must also implement the European policy."
She says the strategy is part of "what I see as the major underlying European project - the construction of a European supranational state".
A spokesman for the Learning and Skills Council said: "We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of these figures. But we do not have a specific budget that just goes to unemployed adults."