Exam board Edexcel may not be able to deliver its flagship "suite" of new foundation degrees because of quality assurance rules.
Edexcel announced almost 100 BTec foundation degrees in February with an endorsement from Alan Johnson, the Higher Education Minister, and began recruiting further education colleges to deliver the courses from this autumn.
Foundation degrees must be validated by universities but three months after the launch, Edexcel has yet to sign up a university to act as the degree-awarding body.
The problem is that any university doing so would immediately risk falling foul of Quality Assurance Agency rules on course franchising. These state that validating institutions must be close enough to the teaching of courses to ensure quality.
In February Edexcel announced that it would offer the foundation degrees in partnership with Northumbria and Greenwich universities.
The universities this week issued identical statements saying: "We are in dialogue with the QAA and have agreed that we will move forward with this project only when we are confident that our arrangements meet with the QAA code of practice."
Northumbria and Greenwich fear that signing up could lead to them breaching the QAA's code on serial franchising.
The latest draft of the code says: "If it is to have proper control of risk in collaborative arrangements, an awarding institution should not be at more than one remove from the delivery of programmes leading to its awards."
But under the Edexcel arrangement, a validating university would be two steps away from the college delivering the degrees, in effect validating a course that is designed by Edexcel and delivered by a third-party college.
Asked about the potential breach of the QAA rules, Northumbria and Greenwich ruled themselves out of any collaborative partnership agreement that would conflict with the QAA code.
Rick Firth, Edexcel's BTec director, said: "Edexcel is still in the process of developing and agreeing the detail of the validation model for the programme operated through further education centres. As this is not yet finalised and discussions are still in process, there can be no breach of QAA guidelines.
"The QAA and the Department for Education and Skills are fully aware of these discussions and are involved with us in guiding all the partners on what would be acceptable. We will be holding further meetings with the QAA, the DFES and our university partners on the proposals.
"We have already informed further education partners about the status of validating the programmes. Students will not be registered on programmes until all validation arrangements are in place, all partners and the QAA are in agreement with the models, and the further education centres have been subject to validation."
Mr Firth declined to say how many colleges had signed up to deliver the courses in September, or how much Edexcel would charge colleges to deliver them. But he said the courses would be delivered from September.
The DFES declined to comment on Mr Johnson's previous endorsements of the scheme.