Colleges urged the Government this week to widen its inquiry into higher education to include further education and the upper secondary reforms.
The Association of Scottish Colleges welcomed the formation of a Scottish committee to guide the deliberations of the UK inquiry which is being led by Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority in England. But the colleges are insisting that the Scottish committee must include representation from FE.
John Sellars, ASC company secretary, says that as 25 per cent of higher education is provided by FE colleges they have a key interest in the future funding, structure and management of higher education - the remit of the Dearing review. Colleges could provide more locally-based higher education more cost-effectively, he added.
The ASC also wants the Scottish Office to ensure that the HE committee fully considers all areas of post-16 education. The impact on further and higher education of the Higher Still reforms of the post-16 curriculum and of the Scottish education and training targets is of particular importance, the association says.
FE has long been unhappy about the Scottish Office cap on the expansion of higher education in colleges. The Government, which believed the colleges might undermine their vocational mission if HE provision expanded too rapidly, froze full-time degree course development. The ASC wants this bar lifted.
But the Scottish Office now faces a dilemma after Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland's announcement that he wanted action on the creation of a university in the Highlands and Islands.
As this will be based on a federation of the FE colleges in the area it can only proceed if the HE cap is lifted.
This week, however, there were indications that the Scottish Office may be prepared to sanction a special deal to get the Highland university project off the ground.