Further education college heads have warned that foundation degrees are being developed too quickly and are in danger of being hijacked by universities eager to pocket funding for expansion.
A position paper from the Association of Colleges raises the concern of the further education sector that the higher education white paper signals rapid expansion of foundation degrees before completion of a review and evaluation of the prototype qualifications.
At the same time, government plans to channel additional higher education students through foundation degrees exclusively have increased the incentive for universities to become more involved with the new qualification.
The AoC is worried that this could lead to the foundation degree being pushed off course.
The position paper warns: "There is a likelihood that those universities that face a reduction in research grant will look to foundation degree development and delivery to enhance their funding without necessarily signing up to the work-based and vocational focus inherent in foundation degree design."
The AoC also fears that a university-driven foundation degree system would cause the design and content of the qualification to become determined by a need to "shoehorn" it into existing honours degrees.
This, it adds, could "engender inappropriate academic drift of a qualification designed to meet a shortage of skills at higher technician and associate professional level in the workplace".
A shift towards more indirect funding of HE in FE, as signalled in the white paper, also increases the dependence of colleges on universities, the AoC says.
Yet it is "vital" for colleges to access direct funding and to be independent of universities to expand demand for the foundation degree. The recent round of bidding for additional student numbers has proved a "real disincentive" to colleges wishing to pursue foundation degree development, the paper warns. Not a single further education college was allocated extra student numbers.
Validation of foundation degrees through the proposed Foundation Degree Forward national body will work only if it is aligned with direct funding of colleges, the paper adds.