"Inflexible" new legal requirements for apprenticeships amount to a "straitjacket" which could force trainees out of the workplace and back into the classroom, FE experts have warned.
Leading figures in the work-based learning sector also said that the new Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) could deter employers and FE providers from offering apprenticeships.
The SASE includes a minimum requirement of 280 guided learning hours per year, of which 100 hours must be delivered "off the job".
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been criticised for the late announcement of the regulations, which come into effect in April, meaning sector skills councils face a race against time to ensure their apprenticeship frameworks are compliant.
The warnings come after FE Focus revealed that, despite record numbers of new apprentices signing up, providers were struggling to meet the Government's target of recruiting 50,000 extra apprentices this year (December 24).
When he announced the SASE last month, skills minister John Hayes insisted the requirements would ensure apprenticeships are a "high-quality investment". But the sector is still waiting to find out what constitutes "off-the-job" learning.
The Association of Learning Providers' employment and skills director Paul Warner said: "Does it have to be in a back room, or off the premises? Or what if a trainer is working with you?
"(Defining off-the-job learning) isn't as cut and dried as them sitting in a classroom or being taught one to one. What we don't want is to find providers being caught out, thinking they have interpreted the SASE correctly and then finding they are non-compliant and have to pay funding back."
The SASE states that the guided learning requirement is for "a minimum of 280 guided learning hours, of which at least 100 hours or 30 per cent - whichever is the greater - must be delivered off-the-job and clearly evidenced."
Nick Linford, FE consultant and author of The Hands-on Guide to Post-16 Funding, said forcing apprentices to complete so many guided learning hours would "hamper the abilities of providers to deliver and employers who want to release employees for that amount of time".
He added that the one-size-fits-all scheme would not necessarily suit a teenager on day release nor an adult being trained in the workplace. "Unless the definition is really flexible, it would be a definite straitjacket for suppliers."
A spokesman for BIS said: "Off-the-job guided learning is designed to take place away from workplace pressures and we have made clear that this could be in the form of distance learning, mentoring or classroom teaching."