Vice-chancellors are to launch a campaign to double the number of work experience places available for students. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals wants to increase places for full-time students starting a degree next year from an estimated 50,000 to 100,000. It is asking careers advisers and employers how such a target can be achieved.
But student union leaders have warned they will not back the campaign if it means supporting the growth of students working part-time during term time.
The CVCP's challenge will be unveiled at a conference on skills and employability for graduates in London on Monday, that is to be addressed by employment minister Andrew Smith.
Diana Warwick, CVCP chief executive, said employers and institutions needed to be more imaginative if Lord Dearing's vision of work experience for all students was to be realised. That might mean helping students to get more out of almost any kind of work they do while studying.
She said: "It is about getting students to reflect on work experience, whether that is working behind the bar or for organisations overseas I and giving them the tools to analyse what they have learned."
A National Union of Students spokeswoman said: "We want students to get more work experience, but to simply redefine it to include things like working behind the bar, at a time when our research has shown a third of students are missing lectures to do part-time jobs, is not acceptable."