The Department of Education in Northern Ireland is seeking views on whether a range of vocational qualifications should be regulated by an English quango or in the province.
The consultation paper, issued in the wake of the Dearing review of national qualifications, also asks whether the DENI should approve full-time courses for 16 to 19-year-olds, to ensure that standards are maintained, and avoid a proliferation of syllabuses.
At present, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications regulates vocational awards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government favours Dearing's recommendation to merge the NCVQ and the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, with a single body continuing to regulate National Vocational Qualifications across the three regions.
But a question mark remains over the future of General National Vocational Qualifications. The Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the province's regulatory body for school courses, is to extend its role to awarding GNVQs in conjunction with existing vocational awarding bodies such as City and Guilds.
The DENI is now asking whether the CCEA should regulate as well as award GNVQs, in a consultation paper which sets out the advantages and disadvantages of each option. A single body regulating both the academic and GNVQ pathways would make it easier to maintain and develop links between the two, it says, while if the new qualifications body for England had a regulatory role, this would ensure consistency in the regulation of GNVQs and NVQs in England and Northern Ireland.
But it warns there would be increased costs in giving the CCEA a regulatory role, and GNVQs and NVQs would be regulated by two separate bodies. On the other hand, regulation by a new national body would mean a split between academic qualifications and GNVQs in Northern Ireland, and there are no guarantees that a national body would fully reflect the province's interests.
"The arguments are finely balanced, and the views submitted will be considered carefully before a decision is reached on the way forward," said a DENI spokesman.
Comments should be submitted by June 24.