Further education colleges plan to divorce themselves from problematic partnerships with local universities to offer foundation degrees validated by a new national consortium.
More than 80 universities and colleges that are members of the University Vocational Awards Council aim to have the service in place by next academic year.
The consortium is likely to charge a flat fee for validating foundation degrees and other vocational qualifications.
Uvac's move has been welcomed by further education college heads, many of whom have complained about being "ripped off" by local universities that top-slice foundation-degree income.
The service would also give colleges greater autonomy in their higher education work and allow them to set their own fee levels rather than having to charge the same as their partner university.
Some colleges have warned that the kind of students they hope to recruit onto foundation degree courses are likely to be put off by high top-up fees.
It could also provide a salvation for exam body Edexcel's suite of "off-the-peg" Btec foundation degrees. The scheme had to be shelved this year when the two validating universities withdrew for fear of breaching Quality Assurance Agency rules on serial franchising.
Edexcel confirmed that it planned to use the service to bring Btec foundation degrees back on the market by next year.
A Uvac consultation paper says that pressure from the sector, including a government-appointed task force, means that the university monopoly on validation "is likely to crumble". It argues that Uvac should step in to provide a national validation service.