Further and higher education funding chiefs need to rethink proposals for cross-sector collaboration if they want to widen participation, college heads have said.
Plans to create new regional partnerships to help students progress through post-16 education and training into higher education, outlined in a consultation paper by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Skills Council, fail to recognise the important roles of further education colleges and employers, according to the Association of Colleges.
In its response to the consultation, the AoC says the paper underplays the "crucial role" of further education in delivering higher education, particularly to the socioeconomic groups at which the initiative is aimed.
If the target of helping more people progress into higher education from the workplace is to be met, employers will need to be drawn into the partnerships, the paper adds.
These factors are likely to mean that the higher education programmes on offer will have to change, says the AoC.
"Partnerships should focus on the needs of students and the needs of employers and contribute to develop both appropriate pathways and appropriate 'fit-for-purpose' higher education," it adds.
Susan Hayday, AoC curriculum manager, said the consultation paper proposals relied too much on building on the status quo, rather than making key changes to open up more access and progression routes.
She said: "What is not sensible is if the initiative is just about shoe-horning more students into existing higher education without thinking about the fact that we want a widening-participation cohort of students.
"That actually means you need to think more carefully about a whole range of things such as how you attract such students, the way that you deliver higher education to them and the locality in which you deliver it. If it is not tied into a re-evaluation of the way HE is delivered, then we may attract more students but we will not retain them."
Responses to the consultation paper closed today.