Teaching quality is weaker in further education colleges than in universities, a compilation of inspection results from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education shows.
The QAA will next week publish reports on teaching quality in 16 higher education subject areas, based on the 1996-98 round of Teaching Quality Assessment inspections.
They will show that in many subject areas, colleges receive a disproportionately high number of the weaker inspection grades.
The round-up shows that of 541 courses inspected, only five courses were judged to be failing. Three of the five that failed courses were in further education colleges, another was at an institute of higher education.
Each course is given grades from one (fail) to four (excellent) in each of six aspects of provision. Most grade ones and grade twos were given to courses in colleges.
In electrical and electronic engineering, quality was generally high, with grade fours making up 45 per cent of all the inspection grades awarded. The only course that failed - after receiving a grade one - was provided by a further education college.
Of all the grades awarded in electronic engineering, grade twos made up just 9 per cent. But while colleges made up just 12 per cent of the inspection results, they contributed 31 per cent of all grade twos awarded.
In civil engineering, colleges made up just 5 per cent of the provision inspected, but they received 25 per cent of all the grade twos awarded.
A similar picture emerges across the board. "It seems that colleges do less well," said Peter Milton, QAA director of programme review.
Mr Milton added that the figures required "further analysis".
Excellence was in short supply in media studies, where of all grades given, only 36 per cent were grade fours. A lack of "theoretical rigour" was identified in media studies, where two courses failed, although they were approved on reinspection.
In food science, where 65 per cent of all students were female, 38 per cent of the grades were fours.
Top marks were prevalent in American studies, where 52 per cent of grades were fours, and in Middle Eastern and African studies, where 66 per cent of grades were fours.