Four out of five people in Britain believe colleges are as vital to the national economy as universities, a survey reveals.
Some 84 per cent agree that successful FE colleges are as crucial to the competitiveness of businesses in the UK as are successful universities.
The study, carried out by ICM Research for the Association of Colleges as the political parties launch their manifesto campaigns, also shows how highly the public rates colleges' effect on local businesses.
Of 2,000 people questioned, 65 per cent said there would be a negative effect on the local economy if colleges cut the number of courses they provide for adults.
John Brennan, chief executive of the AoC, said: "This survey shows that the British public is fully aware of how important colleges are to both local and national economies.
"It also adds credibility to the argument that a university degree is not always as valuable as a vocational skill."
The poll found that almost seven in 10 people agree that local colleges have a good reputation in the community for their quality and range of courses and services.
Some 80 per cent said colleges should receive the same funding as schools to teach the same courses to teenagers; 77 per cent said that for many teenagers a college is a more suitable place to study than a school.
Mr Brennan pointed out that colleges now receive at least 10 per cent less funding than schools for teaching the same courses - a shortfall of Pounds 500,000 for the average college.
He added: "It is a pity that public opinion contrasts strongly with current government funding plans for adult learning in England, which provide extra funding for schools and universities while forcing colleges to introduce cuts and price hikes.
"Colleges are the backbone of British business. They provide the skills for a successful society."
The AoC has launched an online petition to protect adult learning, and to call for an end to the funding gap between schools and colleges.
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