Alex Neil, convenor of the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee, has called for the independent Cubie committee to be reconvened to investigate the funding of Scotland's universities and colleges.
Mr Neil said his cross-party committee's newly published review of lifelong learning had not included tuition fees to avoid being "bogged down" and split along party political lines.
The issue of student finance would be settled with the result of Scottish Parliamentary elections in May, he told the Scottish Further Education Unit's annual conference. But 25 years of underinvestment, the settlement boosting schoolteachers' pay and the prospect of top-up fees south of the border meant funding for the tertiary sector must be a priority for the new parliament, he said.
The Cubie committee, which advocated the abolition of upfront tuition fees in Scotland and the introduction of a graduate endowment scheme, should now be re-established with a far wider remit, Mr Neil said.
"To my mind, the big issue is the whole future funding for further and higher education, and that relates to how institutions are funded as well as to individual student funding," he said.
Developments such as the UHI Millennium Institute and the Crichton campus, which united further and higher education, had shrunk divisions between the sectors, he said. The committee's report wants to see the further and higher education funding councils merge within five years.
Funding strategies must also take account of developments not only in England but also abroad as institutions face global competition, Mr Neil said.
He revealed that the enterprise and lifelong learning committee was preparing a "legacy paper" for the committee that succeeds it after the election. This was likely to flag up the need for an inquiry into further education college governance, he said.
But he also predicted that the successor committee would have a different remit because tertiary and school education were likely to come under a single ministerial portfolio, with enterprise going to a different department. "I suspect whether you're for it or against it, lifelong learning will be incorporated into the education department," he said.
Universities Scotland and the Association of University Teachers Scotland said they opposed separating enterprise and lifelong learning because the commercialisation of academic research was at the heart of the Scottish Executive's economic policy. The Association of Scottish Colleges said it was "agnostic", while the Educational Institute of Scotland favoured working with a single minister for education.
• The Scottish Executive's bid to attract more science and technology students appears to be paying off, say ministers, with a 4 per cent rise in full-time undergraduate entrants between 2000 and 2001.
Iain Gray, Scotland's minister for enterprise, transport and lifelong learning, told a "Science and the Parliament" event that in the same period, acceptances to maths and computing courses had risen by more than 8 per cent.
Mr Gray said the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's funding for research in 2005 would be nearly 20 per cent higher in real terms than last year. Investment in science and research after the executive's autumn spending review was worth £25 million from 2004-05 and £35 million from 2005-06, adding to the extra £10 million a year earmarked for research in the wake of Scotland's "excellent" research assessment exercise results.
A key priority of the extra funding was to ensure that Scottish higher education remained competitive with the rest of the UK, Mr Gray said.