An interest group that straddles the further and higher education divide is aiming to reap rewards by matching key government targets for widening participation.
The University Vocational Awards Council has been bolstered by a formal partnership with the Mixed Economy Group of further and higher education colleges to form a 50-strong organisation whose members' provision ranges from the lower levels of post-16 training up to world-class research.
The move has been hailed as laying the foundations for a new sector of seamless further and higher education.
Mike Thrower, principal of Northbrooke College and chairman of the MEG group, said the addition of 17 mixed-economy colleges to the UVAC would help to bridge the gap between further and higher education that opened when polytechnics became universities.
Colleges would be able to strengthen their research capability and scholarly activity and universities would benefit from working closely with colleges that were at the coal face of widening access and participation, he said.
The MEG hopes that members will be able to gain accreditation for higher education programmes from the UVAC, rather than relying on individual institutions.
Dr Thrower said these alliances would lead to mergers and new models for collaboration, such as the plans for a "comprehensive" university at Bradford.
Leslie Wagner, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University and chairman of the UVAC, said it would continue to concentrate on promoting vocational qualifications as offering the best opportunities for meeting the government's targets for expansion and widening participation.
He said: "Groups of institutions are always trying to differentiate themselves, and this group is positioning itself as the next sector."