Students will soon have a checklist of everything they can expect to learn from a university course.
But while student leaders have welcomed the move to make universities draw up detailed "programme specifications", critics are predicting it could leave universities with an expensive bureaucratic headache that will stifle course innovation.
The Quality Assurance Agency this month issued guidance to universities on how to draw up the specifications for each of the courses they offer as part of the new quality assurance framework due to take effect next year.
Universities will be expected to spell out intended "learning outcomes" for every "learning experience" and how they will be achieved and assessed. It is expected that the specifications will help inform student choices and enhance employers' understanding of qualifications.
The specifications pave the way for an explicit "contract" between student and institution. Students will be able to call their university to account for failing to deliver. Specifications will cover everything from basic skills to graduate-level knowledge.
Mark Grayling, director of policy at the National Union of Students, said:
"We welcome this. It is an important development for student rights. Institutions need to give guarantees to students, and students need to be able to hold them to account."
Patricia Ambrose, chief executive of the Standing Conference of Principals, said: "The specifications will form something of a contract. (But) there is a real issue about how much it will cost. We wouldn't want to see this becoming a prescriptive bureaucratic checklist for degree courses."
The QAA said that it was not prescriptive about how universities should draw up the specifications, but QAA academic reviewers will use them to make judgements about provision quality.
On implementation cost, it said: "Whether the cost of presenting information in this way can be separated from the cost that would be incurred of presenting that information anyway is a question best addressed to institutions."