Every university will be asked to state how they prepare students for the world of work by David Willetts' opening salvo to improve transparency in the sector.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to write to institutions asking them to produce Graduate Employability Statements explaining how they support students in areas such as careers guidance and work placements, the universities minister announced.
Mr Willetts said it was the coalition government's first move to help students make more informed decisions about their choice of university, and said he hoped to announce further measures in the months ahead.
He said he wanted the statements to be published on the government's Unistats website by August so that prospective students applying for courses in 2011-12 could view them.
Although the statements will not contain specific statistics on graduate employment, the government said it planned to link them to more detailed information on Unistats and university websites.
Mr Willetts, who was due to make the announcement during a speech at Oxford Brookes University after Times Higher Education went to press, has long been in favour of better information for prospective students. While in opposition, he backed a website set up with the help of Microsoft - bestCourse4me.com - which provides data such as the salaries of graduates from different universities and courses.
Speaking about the Graduate Employability Statements to THE, Mr Willetts said: "They will force institutions to think through what they offer in terms of maximising employment prospects. They will ensure that prospective students are informed about what they might get from different institutions."
He said that although the concise statements, which will be less than 3,000 characters in length, would not contain hard data on graduate employment, they were the first steps on the path to greater transparency.
"This is not the final word on the subject. I am very strongly committed to the release of more transparent data for employment outcomes," he said.
He added that Hefce would write to universities asking them to provide the statements by the end of August and would brief them on the form they should take.
"The statements will summarise what universities and colleges offer students to help them become job-ready in the widest sense and support their transition into the world of work," he was due to say in his speech.
Mr Willetts' announcement was made as business secretary Vince Cable reportedly said he was in favour of cutting overall student numbers at university.
Aaron Porter, president-elect of the National Union of Students, said limiting participation would risk the sector becoming available only to the "liberal elite".
Mission groups also lined up to warn of the consequences.
Libby Aston, director of the University Alliance group of "research-engaged, business-focused" universities, said the expansion of higher education over the past few years had been due to "aspiration", not government targets.
She said: "Reducing the number of university places - often in high-quality, high-skill vocational areas - seems short-sighted at best, and at worst detrimental to the future of these individuals and the UK economy."
Earlier this month, Mr Cable said in his first keynote speech that he wanted an "increased emphasis" on lifelong learning and to dispose of the "outdated" value distinction between further and higher education.