TOP-quality university and college courses will have the chance of extra students next year, under a funding council bidding scheme.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England will provide cash for about 6,000 additional student places.
All HEFCE-funded higher education institutions and further education colleges will be able to bid for the numbers, to help them "meet demand from students and respond to external changes".
Colleges not funded by HEFCE may enter the bidding as part of a consortium or partnership.
The money includes Pounds 4 million announced by the government last month for 1,000 extra sub-degree places, and up to another Pounds 18 million, depending on where the extra students go. Laboratory-based courses are funded at a higher rate.
The money will be allocated to popular programmes or courses of proven quality. Successful bids will address one of four points:
* access for groups previously under-represented in higher education
* innovative approaches to teaching and learning
* regional needs
* sub-degree programmes
Students will be funded at the sector average in the relevant price group.
Brian Fender, HEFCE chief executive, said: "Through this initiative we want to give students the opportunity to undertake high- quality study at the university or college of their choice.
"We are also aiming to help institutions make significant changes in their provision. This may be to meet local and regional needs or to respond to the national priorities - highlighted by the Dearing committee - or to expand the sub-degree provision and to widen access to higher education."
This kind of strategic sharing out of student places was not possible previously because of the government cap on student numbers. But last year, institutions were able to bid for a small number of extra student places, if they could prove it would help them meet regional needs and national priorities, or aid innovation.