Further education colleges which offer higher education are better at checking quality than those which stick to FE, according to a national survey.
The first report by the Further Education Funding Council on vocational HE in colleges finds contact with universities often benefits colleges.
Those offering substantial HE, together with their core FE work, are more likely to gain top inspection grades for quality assurance. Links with higher education institutions and professional validating bodies encourage colleges to improve internal quality control, the study concludes.
However, the report also finds that the wide variety of HE courses, levels and validating bodies can pose problems for colleges, which often have to satisfy the quality procedures and standards of several external bodies.
Colleges with substantial HE provision tend to be better equipped than those offering FE alone, but sometimes the superior facilities are confined to higher level courses while further education students miss out.
The survey, produced to coincide with the FEFC's response to the Dearing inquiry into HE, reinforces the conclusion that colleges are an essential part of HE and of the drive to achieve the national education and training targets for lifelong learning.
It finds that the FE sector is delivering 13 per cent - just over an eighth - of all HE in England, and is now the largest provider of higher national certificate and diploma programmes - the sub-degree courses the FEFC claims represent the key to expansion of HE.
HE courses funded in colleges by the FEFC cost less than other HE programmes, says the study, but the quality of teaching and learning is good and retention and pass rates high.
A typical HE student in a college is a mature person - usually male - employed but seeking professional development.