welsh further education colleges fear they will miss out on new powers to award foundation degrees, expected to be granted to their counterparts in England.
They have criticised the Welsh Assembly for rejecting the new powers, warning that it will leave them as second-class colleges and hold back development of the qualification in Wales.
Foundation degrees were launched in 2001, to be taught by colleges under arrangements with universities and employers. The Further Education and Training Bill currently going through Parliament is expected to lead to degree-awarding powers to be given to colleges in England - so the foundation stage does not have to be accredited by a university.
This is seen as one of the most radical developments in further education for many years and a measure of the confidence the Government now has in a section of the education system which once regarded itself as overlooked compared to schools and universities. But the Welsh Assembly, which has blazed a trail in other areas of FE reform, including allowing older people to do apprenticeships, has now decided to let England move ahead.
Jane Davidson, the Welsh education minister, said foundation degrees should continue through existing arrangements with higher education. She said: "We feel that, in a small country such as Wales, it is far better to continue with one arrangement rather than set up duplicating or competitive ones. It is about the collaborative agenda."
Wales's colleges have protested to the Welsh Assembly. They have lobbied for a clause in the legislation which would leave an opening for Wales to adopt the degree-awarding powers in the future.
Glyn Jones, chair of Fforwm, the Welsh colleges' association, said that while England was moving away from higher national diplomas towards foundation degrees, it would leave Welsh colleges at a disadvantage.
Those close to the English border fear they they would lose students to English colleges which will benefit from the reform, leading to a brain drain.
He said: "Our members are disappointed Wales has chosen to go a different way to England. Quite a few colleges feel that the inability to put this final level of employer-related provision in place is a missed opportunity."
A Welsh Assembly spokeswoman said evidence showed that foundation degrees should con-tinue to be provided by franchising arrangements with higher education. The outcome of an independent review of further education in Wales is also awaited, which could yet change the assembly's thinking.
"The opportunity of conferring foundation degree-awarding powers on colleges in Wales will not be firmly closed for the future as a result of the decision not to do so in this Bill," she said. "If at some point it was considered appropriate to grant foundation degree-awarding powers to further education colleges it would be possible to enhance the legislative competency of the National Assembly for Wales to enable it to do so."