Academics who suspect that quality inspectors may not always know what they are talking about appear to have had their worst fears confirmed this week.
The Quality Assurance Agency is seeking to recruit inspectors on a no-experience-necessary basis.
The QAA sent letters to select senior university staff, leaked to The Times Higher , revealing that it is seeking senior assessors to scrutinise applications from eight institutions for degree-awarding powers or for the "university" title.
The agency states that it is "not necessary for those interested to have knowledge or experience of degree-awarding powers activities" and "not essential" for recruits to have been trained to carry out audits for the QAA.
Concerns about the calibre of new recruits were exacerbated by the revelation that they would be paid £200 a day - or about £120 net - for notoriously long hours, plus expenses.
Roger Brown, vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University, which was recently granted degree-awarding powers and the university title, said: "I find this surprising and worrying. There is so much at stake with these applications - the future of the institution involved - it is essential that people of the appropriate calibre are appointed."
Geoffrey Alderman, a former QAA assessor who is now academic dean at the private American Intercontinental University, said: "Institutions have been worried for some time about the quality of people actually on these shindigs, and there is no doubt that the QAA is having real difficulty recruiting good people."
The recruitment letter, from the QAA's Angela Testall, says the agency has received applications for taught and research degree-awarding powers from Aberystwyth and Bangor universities, in preparation for the potential break-up of the federal University of Wales. An application has also been made by King's College London. It is part of the federal University of London. Harper Adams University College has applied for research degree-awarding powers.
Applications for taught degree-awarding powers have been made by the Royal Academy of Music, the College of St Mark and St John, and St Martin's College, Lancaster. A bid for the "university title" from Queen Margaret University College in Scotland has also been made.
Peter Williams, chief executive of the QAA, said that few people had direct experience of degree-awarding powers. "We want to enlarge our pool of people. It can get incestuous if the same group of people do all reviews," he said.
A QAA spokeswoman added that applicants would be vetted and the agency would appoint only experienced senior people.