Wider government policy could lessen the impact of new plans to make it easier for colleges to offer degrees, according to Labour’s shadow minister for further and higher education, Gordon Marsden.
He said of the proposals outlined today in the HE White Paper: "There is not a lot of point in the government offering that opportunity, when you get a situation where because of cuts in Esol [English for speakers of other languages] and adult skills, because of wider issues around the area reviews, the government has been systematically shredding the capacity of FE colleges to deliver HE in the first place."
The government’s plan to make it easier for colleges to gain degree-awarding powers could also increase competition from other providers offering HE, Mr Marsden said.
Online HE or commercial organisations will also be allowed to apply for degree-awarding powers on a probationary basis, he added.
The proposals would include allowing providers to apply for full degree-awarding powers within three to four years of opening.
The White Paper also reveals that FE colleges offering HE courses will be included in the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
The TEF will allow the government to monitor and assess the quality of teaching in higher education, and therefore allow students to identify the best provision.
Much of how it will operate is not yet clear, but a trial is expected for 2017-18.
When the TEF was originally proposed, ministers said it would only include providers with 50 per cent of their students on HE courses.
But the government now says it would expand eligibility for TEF Year One to all providers that deliver undergraduate provision, as well as part-time courses.