Alex Neil, the SNP member who chairs the parliamentary enterprise and lifelong learning committee, said there was an urgent need to look again at the funding of institutions as well as the funding of students in light of suggestions that universities should be able to charge top-up fees.
This was "the big issue" that would confront the new lifelong learning committee after next year's Holyrood elections, Mr Neil said. While substantially increased sums had gone into colleges and universities, these were not enough to reverse 27 years of underfunding.
Mr Neil, in an address to the annual conference of the Scottish Further Education Unit, commented: "If we fail to give this issue top priority, the consequences will be extremely serious. In higher education, we will lose our best brains to the United States and elsewhere; in further education, we will lose the best brains to other parts of the education sector or to industry."
Mr Neil predicted that a priority for the new committee would be the governance of colleges. "The pressure on individual MSPs and collectively is such that the issue has gone significantly up the political agenda and we therefore need a major inquiry after the elections," he said.