A single giant standards agency should be created through a merger between the Quality Assurance Agency and the government's schools exam watchdog, the chairman of the University Vocational Awards Council said this week.
In a call that is likely to meet considerable opposition from academics, David Melville, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent and the chair of Uvac, said that the QAA should be merged with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the super-quango responsible for monitoring the school curriculum and assessment systems.
He said the move was needed to unify standards and create a single qualifications framework for further and higher education that would make movement between the sectors easier for students on vocational courses.
Professor Melville stopped short of calling for a merger between the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Skills Council, but said there should be a "joint structure" and shared targets between the higher and further education funding bodies. This would ensure that the interface between further and higher education was properly managed.
Geoffrey Alderman, academic dean at the American Intercontinental University in London and a former QAA inspector, said the proposal was "very dangerous ".
"The QAA represents, in however imperfect a form, self-regulation. The QCA is not self-regulation, but is about the impostition of standards from the outside," he said.
Professor Melville, the former chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, said the present separation of standards and funding bodies between further and higher education was causing problems for the development of vocational programmes, including the foundation degree, and hampering student progression on these courses.
He said: "If you look at what might be called the standard route into higher education, then you have a pretty seamless progression. But if you go through vocational education, then we have separate initiatives that have not been joined up.
"One of the reasons for this is that we have separate standards bodies and funding bodies. Standards for vocational qualifications are largely set by the QCA, while those for degrees are the QAA's responsibility, and there is no single qualifications structure between them. We would really benefit from having a single standards body."
Professor Melville said there was "no particular view" between the QAA and the QCA on how vocational qualifications should lead to foundation degrees.
Uvac is working with the LSC and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service on proposals for advanced modern apprenticeships to be accredited as an entry route into higher education.
He said: "There is a need for someone to take responsibility for the interface between further and higher education and for there to be something that prevents policies that actually inhibit progression and funding. At the very least, we need a joint structure between the standards-setting bodies and the funding councils, but I see no reason why there should not be a single standards body. It could be established as a joint responsibility, but there would need to be a clear structure to it."
Neither the QAA or the QCA was prepared to comment.