The number of students studying for higher education qualifications in colleges of further education has been falling since 2004.
The Conservative Party said this week that the neglect of such students was "inexcusable", and accused universities of unfairly "top slicing" the funding they channel into colleges under "murky" arrangements.
"HE in FE exists in a no-man's-land - or no-management land - between the central concerns of HE and FE," the party said in a draft policy report on widening participation. Such students represent 15 per cent of all higher education students and 4 per cent of all college learners.
Statistics provided in response to a parliamentary question from John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, show that higher education enrolments at colleges fell from 143,065 in 2003-04 to 139,410 in 2005-06. Although the Government said that the figures would have been affected by changes in reporting methods, a consultation in 2006 noted that enrolments showed "little growth, even a decline in directly funded provision".
The Conservatives' report, by Mr Hayes, says that universities persist in disproportionate "top slicing" of funds where they accredit courses taught in colleges. "The murky nature of indirect funding is attested to by many principals; one we met wondered why their partner university needed almost a million pounds of Hefce funds 'for a few meetings and a validation stamp'."
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mr Hayes said there should be more higher education taught in colleges, and more part-time, distance and modular learning.
"We must look again at how HE taught in FE is funded and at the cost of bureaucracy, which inhibits FE colleges from teaching more HE. We are also thinking afresh about the funding of part-time provision and how we can incentivise the spread of part-time distance and modular learning."