Regional development agencies will help to decide which universities and colleges should be allowed to expand under funding council proposals published last week, writes Alison Goddard.
At present, funding chiefs judge each bid for extra student places against criteria such as widening participation, employability and high-quality provision.
A consultation document on higher education and the regions, published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, says: "The regional case is increasingly important, where we look for evidence that the places will help extend higher education to under-represented groups and meet the needs of employers, taking into accountI regional development agencies' regional skills plans.
"There is an important regional and sub-regional aspect to widening participation, in that mature students, part-time students and students from backgrounds with little or no experience of higher education are more likely to want to study closer to home, reinforcing the need to ensure wide distribution of locally accessible higher education opportunities."
Regional employers have a role to play in driving the demand for qualifications such as the foundation degree, the Hefce document points out.
"Our funding methodI creates powerful incentives for institutions to ensure that they evolve their course portfolio to take account of patterns of student demand. Those in turn are strongly influenced by student perceptions of employment prospects," the report says.
• Responses to the consultation on higher education and the regions should be made by May 31.