Trident Feeds' decision to drop out of the Association for Colleges' Beacon Awards next year was hugely embarrassing for education and employment minister James Paice who gave the keynote speech to the award ceremony last week.
One cornerstone of Government education policy is for industry to look beyond profit in promoting educational projects. But a spokesman for Trident Feeds told the AFC that as the company already sold all the products it could produce it saw no need to continue sponsoring the awards.
In an unscripted departure from his speech, Mr Paice said: "I fear that with that attitude to the marketing they will find their place in the market usurped by someone else."
The AFC refused to comment publicly but off the record a spokeswoman said: "It is the manner of their going that is so distasteful."
Trident's departure was seen as particularly ill-timed as many of the awards given to colleges this year were noted for their potential commercial benefits for both industry and agriculture.
Fourteen colleges won awards - with five runners up - for projects which show enterprise and excellence in teaching and learning in further education. Winners received Pounds 3,000 each to develop projects further. There were 11 industry sponsors.
Colleges which won BT awards were: Plymouth, Dundee and Bridgend. Grimsby College was runner-up. The Partnership Trust awards went to Barnsley and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Otley College for Agriculture and Horticulture won the Trident Feeds award.
Engineering Training Authority (EnTra) awards went to Telford College of Arts and Technology and (runner-up) Warrington Collegiate Institute. The RSA award for business studies was won by Tameside College of Technology. Gardner Merchant awards for environmental health in catering went to Dundee College and (runner-up) Waltham Forest College, which also took the BBC award for multimedia to enhance learning.
City and Guilds awards for health and community care went to Telford and (runner-up) Barnet College. Llandrillo College took the Business and Technology Education Council award for art and design.
The Post Office awards for special needs were won by Gateshead College and (runner-up) Pontypridd College. The National Council for Educational Technology award went to Bell College of Technology.