Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks told a Cambridge conference that research had never been higher on the Government's agenda.
There were still unacceptably low levels of performance in FE and research had a vital role to combat that, he said. He argued research could help to understand the obstacles many face in entering further education, and identify the best techniques to ensure students completed courses successfully.
Mr Wicks said that research had already showed that young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who had spent significant time outside of learning or work had poor job prospects; poor health; greater dissatisfaction with life and political apathy. Young women in this category were also more likely to have children early and in large numbers.
"Yet the clear message also from research is that these young people did not have significantly different attitudes or aspirations from other young people, but were more likely to be dissatisfied with the content and delivery of the mainstream curriculum."
He also added that his department had so far not used international comparisons to show how problems in Britain could be tackled. As minister for research he would be giving high priority to research projects that focused on international best practice.
Mr Wicks said that, in FE colleges, the proportion of full-time students who completed their course varied from 70 per cent to 100 per cent, and the proportion who achieved their qualification varied from 34 per cent to 98 per cent.
"The White Paper emphasised the importance of improving quality and the need for all education and training providers to demonstrate high and rising levels of retention, completion and achievement of learning objectives: it is unacceptable for performance to be so varied ."
He said the latest national level benchmarking data for FE courses of more than 24 weeks gave a retention rate of 79 per cent and achievement rate of 67 per cent. This indicated a "success rate" (those who stayed on and successfully completed courses - calculated as retention multiplied by achievement) of only 53 per cent. "Hence, the FE sector as a whole has a great deal to do to improve standards," said Mr Wicks.