Higher education in Scotland would be better delivered through local colleges, leaving universities a greater national role in research and development, according to radical proposals from six major further education colleges.
Aberdeen, Telford, Falkirk, Fife, Motherwell and James Watt Colleges, who call themselves Scotland's Polytechnic Colleges Group, have put down their ideas in a discussion document, "FE 2000".
Higher education is best built on individuals accumulating credits throughout their working lives, it says, and further education colleges could be the hub of a university of industry, linking a network of local workplace learning centres through information technology.
Fiona Baikie, principal of Telford College, said the document was originally a response to a request from the Scottish Labour party for the group's views on the future of further education, but the principals felt it should have a wider audience.
"We hope politicians might take it more seriously so that it doesn't remain the Cinderella within the education system," she said. "It is much more responsive to the needs of industry than is perhaps possible within the university sector, and at a lower unit cost."
The paper claims there is a large pool of untapped talent lost to the nation because of the inflexibility of university admission policies and course structure.