Further education colleges in England should have degree awarding status and the same funding for providing HE courses as universities, according to a new report.
The Association of Colleges wants FE institutions to enjoy some of the same freedoms as HE institutions to help tackle skills shortages and boost the economy.
Its report, Breaking the Mould: Creating Higher Education Fit for the Future, which was published today, calls for a funding system that would see colleges have the same funding for HE courses as universities and autonomy as to how to spend it.
Recent figures show the number of people studying HE part-time at colleges has fallen by about 20 per cent in the last five years, but the report reckons this could be prevented if there was an equal funding and support system for those studying full-time and part-time.
It says part-time HE is “vital” in helping people to retrain and boost their skills alongside their job, but cost is a major obstacle.
Martin Doel, chief executive of AoC, said: “Quite simply we need government to recognise the benefits of college-based higher education in preparing people for the workplace and give it the same financial support as universities.
“Without more equitable funding, the gravitational pull towards the academic in higher education will leave the country with an even wider skills gap.”
The report also says colleges should be given similar autonomy to universities to award higher technical and vocational awards.
It says a rebalance toward technical and vocational education is “vital” in ensuring the growth of the economy.
It calls on the government to allow colleges to have the equivalent of degree awarding status, and to work with other colleges to make these awards.
Mr Doel said colleges were “perfectly placed” to provide higher technical vocational education because they have the expert teachers and the necessary state-of-the-art facilities.
“If we want the UK economy to succeed, higher technical and vocational education will be an enabler,” he added.
“In the past 50 years, there has been a continuous gravitational pull towards academic education as the sign of success, and it’s time we redressed the balance.”
A BIS spokesman said: “Government recognises the valuable contribution that colleges play in delivering quality higher education. The biggest challenge is addressing the skills gap, and both Further Education and Higher Education have a role to play in meeting this need.
"We are listening to the needs of all stakeholders and are currently consulting on a proposal to move Higher National Diplomas and Certificates into the Advanced Learning Loans system, including consideration of maintenance loans.”