The Higher Education Quality Council is to send proposals for a single system of academic quality assurance to the education and employment secretary, Gillian Shephard.
The document argues: "Ultimate responsibility for the quality and standards of teaching and learning can only rest with the institutions, individually and collectively."
The new system, the council says, should be based on regular internal reviews of courses. In order to ensure that academics do not pat themselves on the back, the review teams must contain external members and work to a national template.
In addition, an institution would undergo an external evaluation every five or six years, similar to the audits now done by the council.
The council argues that the reports could be used to build up a picture not only of institutions but also of individual disciplines. It also proposes that the new system could be the basis of closer co-operation with external accrediting bodies.
The council's document focuses more on the process of quality assurance, than on the body that would run it. Its document assumes, however, that there will be a single body - the quality agency - which would have responsibility for the process and would be contracted to do the work by the funding councils and other external bodies.
John Stoddart, chairman of HEQC, said that quality depended on the high professional standards of academics. "We believe that the system proposed will meet the essential needs of both external and internal stakeholders; provide an effective mechanism for enhancement through innovation and development; protect academic autonomy and diversity; and be economical in the demands it makes on its institutional resources."
* The AUT Natfhe Confederation opposes plans for a single quality system as proposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The unions are calling for a single integrated system based on auditing universities' arrangements for self-evaluation. They argue that the council's plans would "pose a serious threat to the principles of institutional and academic freedom".