Further education colleges will have a greater say in franchising arrangements under plans developed by funding council chiefs.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England wants universities and colleges to form consortia to bid for student places in higher education.Currently, most higher education in further education colleges is carried out under franchising agreements with universities. As the lead institution, the university subcontracts work to the further education college.
"An alternative could be to fund higher education in further education colleges through consortia, which we would expect to be composed of clusters of colleges and higher education institutions in the same geographical area," said a HEFCE spokesman.
"We see consortia as potentially offering advantages in developing the quality of the student experience, in allowing flexibility in administration, and in promoting collaboration between higher education providers in planning the local and sub-regional pattern of higher education."
Under the plans, a further education college could lead and coordinate a consortium. The students would belong to the consortium and each member would be responsible for its own quality and standards.
The move recognises the greater role of further education colleges in higher education. Next year will see 18,000 more higher education places at sub-degree level in further education colleges.
However, the plans require colleges funded directly by the HEFCE to form partnerships with universities. "Our expectation is that colleges will deliver the same quality and standards of higher education as higher education institutions," said a HEFCE spokesman. "To provide that assurance, we believe it will be necessary for colleges to work in partnership with others."
The plans are unveiled in a HEFCE guide to funding options for further education colleges, published today, along with a franchising code of practice. There had been concerns that some universities were passing on less than a third of the money they received for the students. But HEFCE has decided against the tight regulation of partnerships, saying that the institutions should decide what suits them best.
There will be no formal monitoring of whether partnerships meet the code of practice, although HEFCE intends to undertake a sample survey in a year or two. If problems emerge, it will consider formal monitoring.
HEFCE wants institutions to decide on their preferred funding option by early September.