Vince Cable has said that the lines between further education colleges and universities are being “deliberately blurred” as the government attempts to make it easier for colleges to offer higher education.
The business secretary was speaking on 20 November at the annual conference of the Association of Colleges in Birmingham.
“I think one of the things that your colleges take greatest pride in is that we now have a significant advance in terms of HE in FE,” he told delegates.
Mr Cable said that he had “freed up the system” to make it easier for colleges to provide higher education.
“The boundaries therefore between the university sector and the FE sector are becoming blurred, and deliberately blurred,” he said.
Colleges were one of the main beneficiaries of the coalition’s “core and margin” policy, which in 2012-13 reallocated 20,000 places to providers with low tuition fees.
Just over half of these places went to colleges, which managed to fill around three-quarters of them.
But this policy has been scaled back in 2013-14, with only 5,000 places now available for redistribution.
Mr Cable also announced to the conference £330 million would be set aside for “skills capital” funding in 2016-17, a repeat of the sum set to be made available in 2015-16.
He also stressed the role of further and higher education as an export industry for the UK, and praised three colleges which had won a £75 million contract to help build up the education system in Saudi Arabia.