Scotland will soon have to justify any funding and policy differences between further and higher education when it comes to widening access, according to Martin Fairbairn, the Scottish Further Education Funding Council's deputy director for further education funding.
In a keynote address to a European Access Network briefing seminar in Edinburgh, Mr Fairbairn said Scotland had reason to be smug about its progress in widening access compared with the rest of the UK. He said it had "an almost unique landscape" of equally vital contributions by higher education institutions and colleges to opening doors to higher education.
The Scottish Executive's plans to merge the SFEFC and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council reflected the collaboration that existed between further and higher education north of the border, Mr Fairbairn said.
The councils' merger would provide a fresh impetus to create a "seamless robe" of policy and funding.
"Differences will become more obvious and will have to be supported by sound policy arguments," he said. "It will not be acceptable for differences to create significant barriers to progression."
The SFEFC is supporting moves to bring community education courses under Scotland's pioneering qualifications framework. Mr Fairbairn said this could help people who might be wary of formal education.
The Scottish EAN seminar will be followed by events in London and Dublin.
Stephanie Allison, senior community investment manager for the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is sponsoring the events, said the bank had committed £5.5 million to access schemes. "We believe the brightest and the best come from all walks of life," she said.