The "traditional prejudice against vocational education" will be challenged as part of a consultation announced in this week's education white paper.
Ministers want to make vocational options available to all students, saying they are "widely recognised and offer the opportunity of entry to higher education".
The white paper states: "We will only get parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes if the options and qualifications available are of a high standard, benchmarked against world standards and capable of leading to higher education."
More people with vocational qualifications will have to be accepted by universities and colleges if the government is to meet its target for half of young people to experience higher education by 2010.
The white paper says the target is necessary to "achieve the well-qualified workforce we need" but that "to widen participation, we must raise levels of attainment so that more young people reach the entry standards for university".
The consultation will cover the whole of 16 to 19 education, which the government has promised to make more coherent. A report will be published in the new year.
The white paper sets out a change in the law that would allow lecturers from further education colleges to work in schools.
Education secretary Estelle Morris said: "Further education colleges want to root themselves down into the education of 14-year-olds but they cannot do it at the moment."
Some 10,000 more teachers and 20,000 more support staff will be employed in the next three years, according to the white paper.
Many classroom assistants take sub-degree courses. Ms Morris said: "More people have chosen to take teacher training courses this autumn than for the past nine years."
* Some 1,250 students will provide mentoring to 5,000 pupils aged between 11 and 18 living in deprived areas by September 2002, according to the white paper.
There are some 840 mentors from 15 universities taking part in the pilot project, which targets pupils at risk of dropping out, or in need of encouragement. It promotes the benefits of higher education. The students are trained and paid by the government.