The foundation degree is in danger of being stigmatised as a "dumbed-down second-class qualification", according to Ivor Crewe, chair of the National Foundation Degree Group.
Professor Crewe, vice-chancellor of Essex University, said he was aware of critics' doubts about the degree, but he said early indications were encouraging and that it was vital the qualification was recognised as key to the government's reform of higher education.
Speaking at a conference in Leeds, Professor Crewe said student retention was 95 per cent - better than that for honours degrees. And while some initiatives had flopped, others were in great demand.
He said recruitment had exceeded the 4,000 target for the academic year.
He said the degree went "to the heart of the government's vision of social inclusion". Almost two-thirds of students embarking on foundation degrees are over 25, and 40 per cent are part-time.