STUDENTS could find it easier to transfer between universities under a national qualifications grid that a government-funded steering group has hammered out.
The Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals will discuss the proposals in closed session next Friday. Many university leaders fear the moves spell a shift towards a national curriculum.
The Inter-Consortium Credit Agreement project steering committee was charged with the task of developing a framework for credit accumulation and transfer, as recommended by the Dearing and Fryer reports and endorsed in the government's green paper on lifelong learning.
The committee said this week that it had reached "broad agreement on the defining principles". Set up by the Quality Assurance Agency and funded by the Department for Education and Employment, it is to publish a "full agreement" on a credit transfer system in September.
InCCA includes representatives from the QAA and the funding councils, and has consulted more than 100 institutions. An InCCA spokesman said: "We believe that our proposals for credit can support qualification framework development and meet government calls for credit systems to underpin lifelong learning."
But the timetable for implementation lies with the QAA, which has its own working group on a qualifications framework, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which said it would consider linking a framework to funding.
Brian Fender, HEFCE chief executive, said: "It is very encouraging that those most actively concerned are working towards a UK-wide set of proposals."
But the plans rely heavily on acceptance from institutions and are unlikely to have a smooth ride. One InCCA source said: "Getting academics to agree is like herding cats, so we have to keep the dialogue going."
Details, which are under wraps, are "the minimum possible" to achieve agreement. The credit is expected to be based on notional hours of learning, set at different levels. The consortium has reached agreement on five areas:
* definitions of credit level
* a set of eight "level descriptors"
* guidelines on learning outcomes and assessment
* guidelines relating to modules and units
* a minimum "data set" for credit transcripts.