A leading organisation of vocational learning providers said it welcomes the government’s planned changes to Higher Education.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is hopeful the proposals to encourage competition and open the market to alternative providers will go ahead.
In June, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published a white paper which announced its vision for a “diverse, competitive system”, offering students a choice of HE possibilities.
Aidan Relf, spokesperson for AELP, which represents hundreds of private and third sector learning facilities, said: “It could be a significant opportunity for our members.
“Now, with university fees so high, that should act as a driver for people looking at alternative routes into higher education.”
The AELP hopes that will mean more prospective students go for foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and Apprenticeships rather than the traditional route of a three-year university degree.
However, the government white paper has been met with opposition from academics and university groups which claim greater competition will mean a worse deal for students.
A document, entitled “In Defence of Public Higher Education” published earlier this week, criticised the plans.
Professor John Holmwood, from the group Campaign for the Public University, said the cost of marketing is a serious concern, as shown by for-profit providers in America.
“They offer vocational courses which they often mis-sell to students,” he said.
“They have very high marketing costs which they use to target students who pay them for an education which, in the end, does not actually meet a proper standard.
“If the system becomes competitive on price, then [higher education providers] are going to be spending money on marketing which would previously have been spent on the quality of the teaching.”
Holmwood, a professor at the University of Nottingham, also believes the plans will impede social mobility as high university fees are a reflection of employment prospects. He said: “It is almost built into it that you are paying a fee for a better job.”
Relf, on the other hand, does not see how a wider market would impede social mobility. He said: “There is already evidence that people who do not even go into higher education, in sectors like hospitality, get well paid jobs in their mid 20s.”
The AELP recognised the need for regulation of the higher education market to give providers an equal opportunity. National policy manager Judy Brandon said: “It will be essential to ensure that the regulatory framework does not unintentionally discriminate against providers simply because they do not operate in the way that has been the norm in the past.”
The government-funded group is also looking to enter the discussion over the development of the higher education system through a special interest group. It will meet in October to look at the possibilities of greater involvement of work based learning providers.