Plans for the merger of Derby University with two further education colleges were set back this week after regional officials of the Further Education Funding Council called for additional information to support the bid.
A detailed review of post-16 courses suggests a wider solution may be needed than an FHE merger, as various cuts and the rise of new sixth-forms are hitting the options that colleges can offer.
The proposed merger with Mackworth College and High Peak College was questioned by other local colleges and the FEFC head office, which queried the longer-term benefits to FE.
Postponement of a regional committee recommendation is understood to be partly because officials want to see the recommendations in Sir Ron Dearing's review of higher education. Both the funding councils have been collaborating more closely at regional level recently.
The proposal will be re-examined on July 3. A recommendation for merger would have to be backed by Professor David Melville, FEFC chief executive, and the Secretary of State for Education.
The three other colleges with partnerships with the university are South East Derbyshire, Burton upon Trent and Wilmorton, Derby. One principal said: "We want closer collaboration, but not at the expense of other widespread arrangements with school and other links."
An FEFC review of FE in the area has highlighted a growth of new sixth-forms, forcing colleges to rethink tactics and recruit more part-time adults. It also shows a considerable growth of capital investment in schools.
Declining college numbers, as pupils remain in schools, are squeezing less popular courses out of the curriculum. Public transport cuts are restricting the movement of students, hitting those on lowest income families.