Universities this week launched an offensive against the expansion of higher education in colleges as they step up the battle to keep revenue from fees on campus.
Vice chancellors want to stop colleges gaining large numbers of Higher National Diploma and Higher National Certificate students, as recommended in the Dearing report on the future of higher education.
Evidence of the moves to block expansion of sub-degree courses in FE is contained in confidential papers leaked to The TES.
Documents put to this week's annual conference of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals in Strathclyde show that the universities are determined to resist priority in growth being given to FE.
Sir Ron said the lion's share of growth in sub-degree courses should take place in FE colleges and the cap on full-time undergraduate places should be lifted.
But, in one document, the chancellors argue that such a shift goes against the trends in an increasingly student-led HE system.
"There is no hard evidence on any real cost advantage in putting more HE provision into FE colleges, " it says. "All provision above level 3 is higher education and, as such, has an appropriate place in universities. This provision includes not only HNDs, but certificates, diplomas and accredited continuing education.
"The commitment of universities to maintaining and developing a wide range of provision at this level is a signal of healthy diversity in the system."
The CVCP paper cites figures, claiming higher education institutions have the main share of part-time sub-degree enrolments (though not the majority of HNCs) and that that is where expansion should take place.
"In 199697 there were 45,000 registrations for HNDs [full-time] and 28, 000 for HNCs [part-time]. Two-thirds of the HNDs, and one third of the HNCs were in higher education institutions." Similar claims are made for 1995 and 1995.
"As some students are on franchised courses, the figures should be treated with caution, However, this picture indicates that the large majority of full-time sub-degree provision takes place in higher education institutions." The moves by the CVCP will infuriate FE leaders who are poised to reject key Dearing recommendations for suggesting too little HE expansion in FE.
The Further Education Funding Council was meeting to finalise its response to the review as The TES went to press. A focus group of principals set up by the Association of Colleges was meeting today, also, in the hope of reaching agreement on at least 12 central recommendations.
The most controversial issue facing both organisations is the call by Sir Ron to restrict each college to links with just one university for its degree programmes. They say the recommendation flies in the face of all the educational evidence.
David Melville, FEFC chief executive, said he was "concerned" about restrictions on franchise arrangements recommended in the Dearing review. "There is evidence that colleges with significant amounts of HE provision have more advanced quality assurance arrangements than those in which work is centred more on FE," he said.
Roger Ward, AOC chief executive, said that "commonsense tells us that FE and HE should be free to chose a range of partners. There are good educational and cost reasons."