The divisions separating further and higher education are set to fade away in favour of a more universal post-16 education sector, according to David Melville, soon to leave his post as vice chancellor of Middlesex University for the top job in further education.
Professor Melville, incoming chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, predicted that the shifting boundaries could represent a threat to universities. "We are heading for a more universal sector where the distinctions between different kinds of institutions are not going to be so great," he said. "Further education is the most comprehensive part of the post-16 sector, not higher education, and it is potentially very powerful."
Further education colleges were at the centre of post-16 provision, he added, and much of this included the universities' territory. "This is a very important reason why higher education needs a much greater awareness of FE," he said.
Professor Melville also stressed the importance of a cohesive post-16 sector and said regional groupings of colleges and universities would achieve "much greater significance" given the major drive for higher education in the further education sector. About 10 per cent of all higher education students are studying in the college sector.
"The important question to be addressed now is the size and breadth of these regional consortia," he said. "It is very important that higher education is not seen as some kind of big brother determining the shape of the provision. I want to see a shift away from competition between institutions towards partnerships based on co operation."