Plans to reform further education funding could severely hit student intakes at some higher education institutions, vice-chancellors warned this week.
Institutions with high numbers of students from further education backgrounds fear they could lose numbers if cash is diverted away from A-level courses in colleges and into school sixth forms and sixth-form colleges. Some are also concerned that the new system - which will give local authorities control of 14-19 funding and feature a new Skills Funding Agency for adult education - could lead to fewer mature students entering higher education.
At Bucks New University, 40 per cent of undergraduates come to the university via further education colleges.
Ruth Farwell, its vice-chancellor, said: "My concern is that the new funding model might prefer schools and sixth-form colleges as opposed to further education colleges.
"What we don't want to do is inadvertently have a funding regime that disadvantages certain groups. We need to be aware of possible unintended consequences."
Nearly 31 per cent of students at Bucks New University are mature.
"If funding for those age 19 and above is going to be concentrated on Train to Gain, modern apprenticeships and the new diplomas, are there certain mature students who are going to miss out on opportunities to go into further education?" she asked.
Pamela Taylor, principal of Newman University College, where about 35 per cent of students are mature, said: "We need to be very clear about the impact on learners of every funding decision that's made and make sure that one group of learners isn't prioritised over another."