Post-election restructuring of the Department for Education and Employment has raised hopes of more money for higher and further education.
Leaders this week welcomed the creation of the Department for Education and Skills. The DFES will have responsibility for education, training and lifelong learning. Employment is hived off to a new Department for Work and Pensions.
Many in the post-16 sector predict that the DFES, under education secretary Estelle Morris, will mean greater clarity in handling issues.
But college heads are worried that further education policy, until now closely linked with employment, could fall between the two departments.
They want to know how the DFES will ensure that policy will continue to be framed in an employment context when it is no longer responsible for that area.
Under David Blunkett, education and training were closely linked through the New Deal. Further education colleges were harnessed to the training and employment agenda through the Learning and Skills Council.
It may now be left to the LSC to act as the bridge between departments.
An Association of Colleges spokeswoman said: "There is the question of what will happen to the cohesive management of the New Deal and other adult work-based training, and also what impact the changes will have on government officials, when once again, both the DFEE in London and at Moorfoot in Sheffield will experience considerable change."
Responses from higher education leaders were more positive. Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said she would be seeking talks with the new ministerial team.
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said the union had been pressing for the DFEE to be split, since it felt that priorities had changed.
"When the DFEE was brought together, the government of the time was facing problems of unemployment. But the economic climate is different now and people are interested in going to university for different reasons.
"The creation of the new department will mean a refocusing on colleges and universities and hopefully greater continuity in the handling of post-16 and university education," he said.
Tom Wilson, head of universities for lecturers' union Natfhe, said he thought the merger between education and employment "was not very successful", and the new department would be better placed to concentrate on key further and higher education issues.
It might also mean less "blurring of the edges" between employment and education, he added.
The changes, combined with signals from the former minister for further and higher education Baroness Blackstone, gave union leaders some hope that there would be more money for pay, he said.
John Harwood, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, said:
"The departmental changes are a positive step in focusing attention on the education and skills need of the country."
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