"The government has largely focused on the financial benefits of expanding this model, but properly implemented, an expansion has the potential to deliver much wider benefits for students and a real warning to universities about their modus operandi.
"Although there has been some improvement over the last decade, still only 19% of young people from the most disadvantaged areas participate in Higher Education (HE). When compared to the 58% from the most advantaged areas, this is a staggering statistic, and is testament alone that more must be done to widen participation.
"Bringing FE and HE under one roof will mean clear progression routes from established FE courses, such as NVQs and BTECs, to degrees. The establishment and presentation of these progression routes is the key to social mobility within education, and to widening participation amongst the under-represented groups.
"To give an example of how this might work, an engineering apprentice studying at the local FE college, could progress to studying an engineering degree, on a part-time basis, at the same college, once they have completed their apprenticeship.
"As Mr Willetts has pointed out, this model would reduce costs to the tax payer – since provision in FE colleges in generally more cost effective than university provision – and reduce debt for the learner, since the flexibility of FE means they would be able to work and study simultaneously.
"In addition, FE colleges have traditionally placed a much stronger emphasis on the centrality of teaching and learning and they have gained, through long and bitter experience, considerable expertise in providing a wide range of support to students from diverse backgrounds with exceptionally diverse learning needs. The success FE has had in reducing drop-out in recent years contrast strongly with the HE record where this remains something of an Achilles heel.
"So with FE colleges so well placed to offer high-quality degree-level courses, this announcement should be heard as a warning-bell for universities, who for too long have neglected their undergraduates in favour of supporting postgraduates and research activities which generate academic kudos. FE will not have this distraction, and will stay true to its roots of inclusive, supportive, high-quality provision.”