Vice-chancellors have condemned new detailed instructions on collecting graduate employment data ordered by the government as over-prescriptive and bureaucratic.
They say they have not been properly consulted on the collection of statistics on graduates' first destinations, which education secretary David Blunkett has said must become a performance indicator for employability.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency has issued proposals for a new timetable and a compulsory questionnaire for gathering the data.
But although the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals says it has been "kept informed" about Hesa's plans, some individual vice-chancellors are objecting strongly.
Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, said the instructions represented "an unparalleled level of prescription", which showed the government was "trying to run a National University of England".
He said: "This is a set of rules that are stupid in their detail and have been introduced without proper consultation."
Graham Upton, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, warned that the proposed changes would put "considerable pressure" on university careers offices.
"We are particularly disappointed to see a new layer of bureaucracy preventing us from using the excellent information about graduate destinations collected by many of our academics," he added.
Ray Cowell, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, said Hesa was "in danger of being too prescriptive".
He said: "Given that graduates' early careers are very volatile and flexible, we have to be flexible in the way in which we track destinations and careers. There is a place for more rigour and consistency in defining the statistics, but universities should be in charge of the process of reviewing the data collection."
David Wallace, vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, said the proposals to start data collection later in the autumn term would "put a lot of pressure on careers services, because that is their busiest time".
Steve Oaty, Hesa's data provision officer, said there had already been consultation with the CVCP, the Standing Conference of Principals and the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals.
"We need to tighten up the process to produce performance indicators with any kind of reliability. We appreciate this may cause some disruption, but we have not received any complaints directly from vice-chancellors," he said.