Careers staff must be tougher in enlisting employers' help to improve students' job prospects, according to Andrew Cubie, convener of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.
Dr Cubie, speaking at the biennial conference of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (Agcas) at Edinburgh University, said the crucial role of careers staff had been "significantly under-recognised".
He called for a closer partnership between careers staff, academics and employers, particularly over work experience during courses.
Dr Cubie, former senior partner in an Edinburgh law firm, said: "All [employers] look for work experience but not many offer it. You must be more demanding of the employer community in terms of what it can offer."
There needed to be better discussion between employers and higher education, allowing employers to be clearer about what they required from the formal learning process, he said. A partnership approach would also have more clout with politicians.
He criticised the Scottish Executive for failing to attend the conference, which attracted delegates from across Europe, Australia and the US.
Sessions included dealing with an increasingly diverse cohort of students, exploring the graduate recruitment market, and ensuring high-quality careers services.
"This is a very significant conference on issues that seem to me to be at the heart of the future of Scotland," Dr Cubie said.
He also attacked the lack of government funding for the Graduates for Growth scheme he helped to pioneer, which has supported the placement of more than 200 graduates with small businesses in the Edinburgh area.
The scheme is backed by Edinburgh's four higher education institutions, local enterprise company, local council and chamber of commerce. Dr Cubie said its ambition was to go Scotland-wide.
"When I talk to the Scottish Executive, I get broad encouragement but, as ever, I'm afraid, no resource."
Margaret Dane, chief executive of Agcas, stressed the need for a more central role in institutions.
"University careers services can't afford to work in isolation," she said.
"For many years, we had to because we were left on the margins, but the moves to integrate us much more closely into the curriculum are important.