The gap between college and university systems across the UK is growing, according to a leading expert who says institutions north of the Border have embraced a model very different from the "market-based" approach in England.

Ewart Keep, Professor (Emeritus) of Education, Training and Skills at Oxford University, argues that the recently published Scottish Funding Council (SFC) review will aim to evolve the tertiary system here towards a more "coordinated, cooperative" structure.

In a short analysis piece published in Wonkhe, Prof Keep, who is also an SFC board member, says this would mean the separation between further and higher education becoming increasingly "blurred" over time and "replaced by a spectrum of varied post-compulsory offers".

READ MORE: University places squeeze - wealthier students risk losing out

He notes that England has instead opted for “quasi-markets”, overseen by regulators, in which the expectation is that student choice will drive competition between institutions.

His piece, which was written in a personal capacity, states: “These national differences in turn reflect broader ideological schisms and priorities that frame the environments within which education policy is being developed.

HeraldScotland: Jamie Hepburn is Scotland's minister for further and higher education.Jamie Hepburn is Scotland's minister for further and higher education.

“Scotland has a long-term economic and industrial development strategy, supported by three regional economic development agencies.

“It is also committed to an ambitious ‘fair transition’ to net zero, and a ‘fair work’ agenda that addresses issues such as the living wage, employee voice within the workplace, job quality, gender imbalances in the workforce and skills and training for older workers.

“In England, by way of contrast, the policy context is a ‘levelling up’ agenda that has yet to be specified in any detail, and a recently abandoned industrial strategy unveiled as recently as 2017.

“There is nothing like Scotland’s ‘fair work’ agenda, and England also no longer possesses much policy machinery at national level for addressing economic development or business improvement and support.”

READ MORE: Labour claims SNP has 'short-changed' students with bursary cut

According to Prof Keep, differences between the two countries are generating the conditions for a kind of “policy laboratory”.

“These kinds of divergence in national thinking and policy creates the opportunity for intra-UK comparison of the consequences and effectiveness of the different national approaches,” he writes.

“Rather than compare either country with performance in an overseas jurisdiction, which might have a very different culture, history, institutional settlement, economic structure and labour market, intra-UK comparisons rest on many shared underlying characteristics which makes it easier to identify where and how particular policy choices are making a real difference to outcomes.”