Higher level General National Vocational Qualifications which could replace Higher National Diplomas and provide a new professional training route are proposed in a consultation paper to be issued to universities and colleges soon.
They could be awarded by universities and would provide a progression from existing Advanced GNVQs (called vocational A levels), which are proving increasingly popular among students.
The paper, being prepared by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, will suggest that GNVQs at level 4 could eventually take over from diplomas and would also fit proposals for a two-year associate degree.
The proposed qualifications would overlap with vocational degrees, and might define the content and standards professional bodies seek. They could provide a new step towards, or exemption from, professional qualifications.
The NCVQ is hoping to persuade universities and colleges that the potential benefits of introducing higher GNVQs outweigh assessment problems associated with the qualifications at lower levels. Because GNVQs are made up of separately assessed units, students dropping out of courses would leave with a recognised record of achievement, and could return later.
There would be scope for common elements between higher GNVQs and degree programmes, and credit transfer - particularly with modular courses.
GNVQs incorporate assessment of "core" or transferable skills, such as communication and numeracy - a feature which is very popular with employers and is being pushed by the Government in new national education and training targets published this week and in Sir Ron Dearing's review of post-16 qualifications.
Two options have been explored. One is to align the standard of GNVQ level 4 to that of an honours degree, while restricting content to about two-thirds of a degree. Such a qualification would equate to two years of full-time study. The second is to align both the standard and content with that achieved after the first two years of a degree. This model would correspond with proposals for an associate degree.