College leaders will press Sir Ron Dearing to carry out a full study of discretionary grants for all further education students during his 15-month review of higher education.
The Government insists the grants are outside Sir Ron's remit to review FE colleges which provide higher education.
A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson told The TES: "He may look at discretionary awards but not specifically for FE. He will look at awards only where they affect HE administration."
College principals are angry at the narrowness of the brief. "One issue where you cannot draw a line between FE and HE is that of grants," said one head. "The lack of a grant is one of the biggest deterrents to students considering access courses which will help them into HE."
Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges, said Sir Ron was his own man and could be prevailed on to take a more flexible view of what was expected of him.
"You cannot simply put concrete walls between further and higher education. He must look at the way the two sectors work together, particularly on the question of student funding."
The names of members of Sir Ron's review committee will be announced before Easter, the DFEE confirmed. A 12-member team is likely to be nominated by Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard and should represent a "balance" of interests from HE and industry.
Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth is pressing for a separate committee for HE north of the border.