The first mergers bringing together general further education colleges and a university passed crucial hurdles this week, as funding chiefs put the proposals out to consultation.
The move means the merger of High Peak and Mackworth colleges in Derbyshire with the University of Derby and the proposed merger of Newton Rigg College in Cumbria with the University of Central Lancashire have both been approved.
Under FE regulations all mergers must be put out to consultation before the Further Education Funding Council makes a recommendation to Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett.
The Derby merger would create a huge university with 31,000 students - 19,000 following FE courses and 12,000 on higher courses.
The Newton Rigg merger is less controversial. Newton Rigg is an agricultural college following the lead of several specialist institutions which have merged with universities and higher education colleges.
An FEFC spokeswoman said alternatives to the Derbyshire merger plan had been considered, as had the needs of the local area.
Under rules governing further and higher education mergers an agreement is needed to ensure the FE college would still be used for further education after its move into the higher education sector.