Government has urged universities to increase the number of adult students by offering more evening classes and part-time degrees.
Speaking to university leaders (Universities UK) in Leicester, John Denham universities secretary told universities to work more closely with industry to provide part-time courses for their employees as a means of improving the skills of the UK workforce.
Denham said: "As a country we simply cannot afford to have a higher education sector that is focused only on school and college leavers. As the Leitch report made clear, 70% of the workforce in 2020 has already left school. Many of them need university level education.
Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) said it supported the government's aim of encouraging older workers to train and retrain, to develop their knowledge and skills.
However, David Pardey, senior research & policy manager at ILM told Personnel Today: "John Denham seems to suggest that the only way people can get higher level qualifications is via universities and ignores the invaluable role that professional institutes play in providing work-related qualifications through a wide variety of high quality education and training providers outside the higher eductation sector.
Stuart Woollard, director of HRM Learning Board, at King's College said: "Aspects of the government's proposals match with what we have established with our HRM Learning Board and we can identify with the cultural change for universities that is being asked for here.
"Historically, we have welcomed many employees and older students on our MSc in HRM & Organisational Analysis on a part-time basis or who have taken time off for further study. King's College also increasingly offers distance learning opportunities that can be utilised by older students," he said.