Students beginning the term at Gateshead College this week have faced an extra task amid the registration and form-filling - a test to check numeracy and literacy.
The college now routinely screens every full-time student using standard basic skills tests after seeing demand for extra help spiral as general national vocational qualifications found their way on to the curriculum.
At intermediate level, in particular, students often have to overcome real difficulties, according to deputy principal Nancy Cookson. "We find a lot can't meet the specifications - maths and spelling are a real problem, particularly in terms of the core skills requirement."
The north-east college moved swiftly to fill the gap. The help students need is incorporated as far as possible into their study programmes, since experience shows expecting learners to turn up for extra classes rarely works.
"We are trying to build it into the courses," says Ms Cookson. "It is all about how students feel about themselves, so we don't have any programmes that are specifically remedial and we would not use that word in college.
"It is a case of experimenting with different models like double-staffing a particular class or using extra support assistants."
Every foundation GNVQ student now automatically receives back-up literacy and numeracy help.
The basic skills needs of part-time mature students, also on the increase, are similarly assessed and addressed within the context of general courses.
The Gateway programme - a series of more than 20 part-time community-based courses designed to lure adults back to education - includes a diagnostic element.
Ms Cookson says: "This is a recognition that many returning adults will have difficulties with basic skills, but many don't want to go into a programme totally devoted to them."