Plans for closer co-operation between further education colleges and universities will be unveiled by leaders of both sectors at the Labour party conference in Blackpool next week.
Details are contained in a confidential report, to be published jointly by the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals, the Association of Colleges and the Association of Scottish Colleges at a CVCP fringe meeting.
The desire for closer collaboration but not outright merger is spelled-out in a joint statement in the report by the three chairs: Martin Harris (CVCP), Jim Scrimshaw (AOC) and Bob Kay (ASC).
"Each sector in post-16 education needs the other to be strong, efficient and well-resourced," they say. "Where we can work together we must develop our partnerships; where our expertise differs we should celebrate the diversity. "
The report is a study of successful links between the sectors, which have seen the number of higher education students in FE rise to more than 200,000.
Numbers will continue to grow considerably under Government moves to expand post-16 student enrolments by 500,000. The bulk of sub-degree HE students will go to FE colleges.
Five areas of good practice are analysed in the report
* compacts to support students without formal qualifications; * outreach courses for those previously lacking aspiration;
* franchising and validation to bring higher education to local communities;
* industry and business links; and
* new initiatives.
It is in the area of new initiatives that some of the most far-reaching initiatives are revealed. They include the Community University of North Wales which aims to provide learning pathways through the full range of further and higher education, based on new forms of unit-based accreditation of modular programmes.
The joint report, Learning Partnerships, shows the extent to which FE colleges are often the driving force of new collaborative developments in HE. The links with schools are well documented but this report is the first definitive study of similarly co-operative ventures in higher education.
The extensive analysis covers work dating back to the early 1980s and reveals substantial growth over the past 15 years. Efforts to tackle chronic under-achievement in Northern Ireland are highlighted through a joint initiative by the University of Ulster and Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education.
Initiatives are outlined in the report as model schemes which other colleges and universities might look to for ideas and as projects for curriculum developers to approach for further advice.