Universities must continue to safeguard the quality and standards of higher education courses delivered by further education colleges, Alan Johnson, the Higher Education Minister, said this week.
Although the work of colleges is at the heart of the Government's widening participation agenda, some of it is still not up to scratch, Mr Johnson told a conference in London on Monday.
College lecturers teaching higher education should be encouraged to become members of the Higher Education Academy as part of an effort to raise teaching standards. Further education institutions would also benefit from joining lifelong learning partnership networks, he said.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that standards and success rates had improved in some but not all further education colleges. "If we are to offer all students the best possible higher education experience, this has to be addressed."
Speaking to The Times Higher , he added: "We ought not to kid ourselves that everything in the garden is rosy."
Mr Johnson told the conference that as the number of foundation degree programmes continued to grow, it would be essential for colleges to build on and extend links with employers.
He rejected proposals that new foundation degrees that did not include work placements should be developed to expand the scheme more quickly.
"Employers need to be involved in the curriculum," he said.
College heads reacted angrily to Mr Johnson's comments about standards.
Mariane Cavalli, principal of Croydon College, said it would be "divisive" to make only lecturers who taught exclusively on higher education courses members of the Higher Education Academy.
She added: "Mr Johnson seems to think that progress can be made only through partnerships with higher education institutions. There is not much evidence to support that statement."