John Denham has left plans to merge three colleges in limbo as stricter guidance on creating super-colleges is prepared.
The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and his team have asked for a new proposal from Salford, Eccles and Pendleton colleges to be drawn up, preventing them from merging in August as planned.
The final decision could be affected by a forthcoming policy paper, "Further Education Colleges: Models for Success", which looks at alternative ways of collaborating and sets out stronger criteria for mergers to ensure that students and employers benefit.
Mr Denham has already indicated his concerns in a speech last November: "Many colleges are proposing mergers, though there is no evidence that larger colleges provide more effective education."
But for some colleges, creating a bigger institution is seen as vital to their survival in a competitive market. This academic year saw more than 30 colleges either engaged in talks or completing mergers.