Universities have been invited to apply for awarding-body status for National Vocational Qualifications by Nick Tate, chief executive of the new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Higher education institutions would be welcome to form consortia to award NVQs on a national basis, Dr Tate has said.
But if they do, they must expect to be scrutinised under the QCA's quality assurance regime, which will have more teeth than the one operated by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications.
The Open University and the Management Verification Consortium, a group of higher education institutions, are the main higher education providers currently awarding NVQs.
Dr Tate told The THES most universities would have to form consortia before they could join the NVQ-awarding body club because the qualifications had to be available nationally.
This might be attractive to institutions wanting to boost their vocational provision, as well as to the QCA which hopes to encourage greater collaboration between employer-led National Training Organisations, professional bodies and higher education.
But institutions should not see it as a soft option where standards are concerned, Dr Tate warned.
He said the QCA would establish a framework of quality assurance principles for qualifications taught by publicly-funded institutions, with statutory powers to enforce compliance. These powers would not, however, extend to higher education except in the case of NVQs where universities choose to become awarding bodies. Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates would not require QCA approval where they were offered in higher education, but they would in further education.
QCA would also not be involved in approving modules in "key skills", such as communication and teamwork, built into higher education courses. Key skills units are taken as part of General NVQ courses, and will be added to NVQ and A-level programmes. It is expected Sir Ron Dearing's report will recommend they are extended to higher education.
Dr Tate said he wanted to involve higher education in advisory groups.