The government's skills strategy is disjointed and incomplete because it ignores higher education, the University Vocational Awards Council has said.
The strategy fails to recognise the contribution higher education could and should be making towards meeting the skills needs of employers and helping to build a knowledge economy.
And it misses an opportunity to address key issues such as how to break down the barriers that prevent students with vocational qualifications, such as modern apprenticeships, from progressing to higher education.
Uvac chief operating officer Simon Roodhouse said: "The government's skills strategy should provide an overarching road map that pulls together further and higher education policies. What we have instead is a narrow parochial strategy that virtually ignores HE."
In a draft position paper, Uvac, which represents 75 universities, colleges and sector skills councils, criticises the strategy for concentrating solely on the part that foundation degrees play in addressing skills shortages.
The skills white paper has little to say about how higher education institutions could work with other organisations such as sector skills councils to help create a coherent vocational pathway from level one through to postgraduate programmes.
And it completely ignores some relevant initiatives such as the graduate apprenticeship, a new qualification designed to equip graduates with employment skills that is now offered by 50 higher education institutions and 30 sector skills councils.
The Uvac paper comments: "From reading the skills strategy, the impression could be gained that skills shortages and gaps stop at level three, and that little further work - other than to develop the foundation degree - is needed to support the development of higher education learning programmes that provide businesses with work-ready graduates. But talk to employers, sector skills councils, or read the research in this area, and it soon becomes apparent that this is not the case."
Uvac complains that the strategy fails to say how sector skills council agreements, which set out the agenda for raising productivity in each industry sector, relate to the work of higher education institutions or to the development of foundation degrees. The strategy also says nothing about the role of higher education in a proposed national skills alliance that aims to link organisations in a concerted drive to raise skill levels.
Uvac suggests that higher education could play a significant part in raising skill levels by incorporating in degree programmes national occupational standards, developed over the past 15 years by employers with £100 million of government investment.
It says: "Although examples of good practice are apparent, awareness and use of NOS in HE is low. This is the sort of issue that the skills strategy could have addressed but failed to."