The further education sector views Higher Still as an opportunity and is less concerned about its impact than schools, Alistair Tyre, principal of Langside College, told the conference at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.
Higher Still would help to close the divide between vocational and academic education, recognise achievement in adults and emphasise core skills, he said. "Talking to industrialists, it's quite clear that while qualifications are important, so is attitude. I'm delighted to see it involved in core skills. "
But Mr Tyre believed there was still some way to go before industry was convinced Higher Still had developed a valid assessment system. He was also certain that few in business knew anything about the proposed reforms. At a recent business lunch he had attended, only two of 22 businessmen had had any idea about Higher Still - and they were parents of school children. "That, for a further education college, is a disaster and something we must address, " he said.
Mr Tyre called for more flexible assessment of students. "If you start looking at assessment once or twice a year, you're not helping industry one bit. We have to look for a system that has an ability to be delivered at least four times a year."
The concept of an academic year was different in FE and employers' needs were different, he said.
It was important to clarify the routes into higher education. He did not want the reforms implemented and students disadvantaged because they had chosen the wrong routes. The place of the Higher National courses had to be fitted in as a seamless part of the initiative.
Dr Joan Stringer, principal of Queen Margaret College, replying for the higher education sector, emphasised the broad agreement of universities and colleges to accept Highers as the main means of entry, along with Scottish Group Awards.
But she added: "There is not likely to be a unified response from HE institutions in terms of entry requirements for admission and in the work undertaken to create linkages with the existing curriculum. To some extent, it is an inevitable consequence of the operation of the HE market."
She rejected suggestions that the Advanced Higher would threaten the four-year honours' degree. "This Trojan Horse theory has largely receded," she said.
But institutions were likely to respond in different ways to the Advanced Higher, including restructuring the first-year curriculum, giving partial exemption from year one or direct entry to year two. In some cases, it would become the "going rate" to discriminate where courses were over-subscribed.