The degree should not be held up as a "gold standard", and extra public funding should be directed at colleges, not universities, two leading government advisers said this week, writes Phil Baty.
John Field and Tom Schuller, members of the National Advisory Group for Lifelong Learning, told a conference that a government of "tough choices" should "break with accepted orthodoxies".
An open debate must take place before the government determined spending priorities within its comprehensive spending review in the summer, they told delegates at the annual conference of the Universities Association for Continuing Education, at Brighton.
"The entire post-compulsory system of education is based on the degree as gold standard," said Professor Field, professor of lifelong learning at Warwick University. "I'd be much more interested in seeing a stronger commitment to break up the degree into shorter-term, bite-sized, smaller units, allowing an accumulation of credit." He would also like to see more incentives for the study of sub-degrees, like higher nationals.
Professor Schuller, professor of continuing education at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We are in favour of widening participation in higher education, but on a macro level, the numbers going into higher education should not be the acid test. It means that any provision not geared to delivering a degree is devalued, and provision is narrowed."
The first priority, they argued, would be to end the "injustice" in the funding system. They called on the UACE to "lobby hard" for equal treatment of part-timers.
The big question, public investment in further education at the expense of higher education, at least needed "proper and open debate" during the spending review.