The government's promise to get 50 per cent of young people into higher education is marginalising the over-30s, according to the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education.
Niace director Alan Tuckett said: "Niace believes that there is a real danger that the majority of adults will, at best, be untouched by these proposals (that 50 per cent of people under 30 will experience higher education by 2010) and may, at worst, be disadvantaged by them.
"This is because pressure to achieve an age-related target by 2010 means that attention will, inevitably, focus on those currently aged between 13 and 19 to the exclusion of equally important work with older learners."
Responding to the "Partnerships for Progression" consultation paper published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Mr Tuckett said: "There is little (in the paper) to reassure us that the existing work done by colleges, universities and others to encourage adults of all ages to enter higher education will be protected - let alone that it will grow.
"While it is reasonable to assume that activities intended to attract people aged 21 to 30 will be maintained in order that they will be available to those within the target cohort, the likelihood that activities targeting people over 30 will be anything other than marginal does not appear great. Niace would welcome a rebalancing of the initiative to give greater balance to the post-school dimensions of the proposal.
"Niace endorses the arguments made for reasons of economic prosperity and social justice to expand higher education. But Niace believes that the age 30 cut-off point is arbitrary and unhelpful and that government should encourage all who can benefit to aspire to higher education."
Mr Tuckett added: "The details of how they propose to meet the government's higher education participation target have received little attention - even though it would require the equivalent of ten new Manchester Metropolitan Universities by 2010 to deliver it."