Universities could scupper the government's reform of school qualifications by insisting on their right to make autonomous admissions decisions.
It is now clear that universities will resist adopting the new post-16 qualifications framework, to be introduced from next September, as the foundation for a uniform and more transparent set of admissions criteria.
Universities are also opposed to making any of the new AS, reformed GNVQs and key skills qualifications requirements for entry.
They say that entry decisions will continue to be made by university admissions officers based on a full range of criteria. The implication is that for many universities traditional A levels will continue to be the entry "gold standard".
It is a blow not only to government but to schools and further education colleges. They say it is imperative that they know what weight the new qualifications will carry with universities.
Schools and FE colleges say that unless they get clear guidance then they cannot risk advising their students to take one of the new options. They will be forced to play the existing university admissions game.
Despite the pleas from schools and colleges, Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Guildhall University and vice-president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, told Monday's CVCP conference on the new qualifications framework that autonomous admissions decisions had to be preserved.
He said: "A new range of post-16 qualifications is not going to make uniformity any more likely. It is very unlikely that we will require any of the new qualifications for entry to higher education.
"We are concerned about the suitability of candidates for particular courses ... and believe that the best people to make decisions on student suitability are admissions tutors."
The qualifications framework is designed to produce school leavers with a broader range of qualifications more suited to the modern workplace and society.
Instead of the traditional concentration on straight A levels, it is hoped that a revised structure will allow sixth-formers to choose a mix of advanced extended awards that are at least equivalent to the existing special papers, A levels and AS levels.
Alongside, there will be revised advanced GNVQs, which will be graded from A to E to make them more easily comparable to A levels. There will also be a key skills qualification - covering literacy, numeracy and information communication and technology.
Earlier, both David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, and John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, appealed to university sector delegates to make their admissions criteria more transparent. The alternative is that colleges and schools will not be able to implement the framework.
Dr Dunford said: "I have to say that unless universities send out this kind of message ... then all
the work done by Nick Tate at the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency and all the speeches made by Baroness Blackstone at the Department for Education and Employment will be dead in the water. Schools will just not do it."