The government's drive to widen access to higher education through the college sector is being undermined by an "unfair" quality-assurance system, the Association of Colleges has warned, writes Tony Tysome.
John Brennan, chief executive of the AoC, said that it was essential for the success of government expansion plans that more colleges be directly funded for providing higher education courses, instead of being forced into deals with university partners who passed on funding after top-slicing cash for themselves.
But the college sector's case for direct funding was being undermined by a quality-control system that treated indirectly funded courses more leniently, Mr Brennan told a conference on further education in higher education last week.
Under the current system, colleges that receive funds direct from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to provide higher-level courses are inspected under the Quality Assurance Agency's "subject review" system, which was abolished for the same courses in the university sector last year.
But colleges that receive funds for higher education courses through a university partner are not directly inspected; these courses are considered part of the collaborative provision subjected to a six-yearly light-touch audit at the parent institution.
The disparity means it is impossible to compare quality between direct and indirectly funded college courses.