Universities should be "compelled" to form partnerships with local further education colleges to ensure that the latter's students get a fair chance to enrol on their degree courses, MPs have heard.
In a submission to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee, the 157 Group of large further education colleges said that widening participation to higher education was a myth.
The group said that those who studied for vocational qualifications, and students in further education colleges, found it much harder to obtain a place at university than their counterparts studying A levels in school.
"We strongly believe that the solution for higher education institutions in expanding their intake, and ensuring that it is more diverse, is the college sector," the group said.
"Higher education providers should be compelled to enter into formal partnership arrangements with the local key further education provider in their area to build a cross-sector curriculum ... and make access to university a mainstream option for further education learners," MPs were told.
The group said it was time for an "honest discussion" about how academic and vocational courses related to each other.
"The reality is that individuals studying vocational qualifications are significantly less likely to be accepted for a university place than those studying an A-level programme.
"Although things are clearly better in the post-92 institutions, this is perhaps unsurprising as programmes of vocational study may often follow on logically to courses traditionally run by them, for example, computer logistics or nursing.
"High-level vocational courses, however, such as medicine, law or engineering, are still almost universally run in the redbrick institutions that in reality offer no vocational pathway," the 157 Group claimed.
"The Government should address the question of access in this context, but also examine the purpose and core of vocational courses."
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