Tony Tysome Universities and colleges have warned that the standing of foundation degrees and the integrity of higher education have been jeopardised by proposals for a national qualifications framework.
The Quality Assurance Agency's decision to create a four-level framework, within which the foundation degree is at level three, was condemned by the Council of Validating Universities, which represents 85 universities and 50 further education colleges.
The attack follows the council's annual meeting in Manchester, where delegates called for the framework to be replaced by a three-level structure, with the foundation degree pitched at level two.
They were concerned that four levels would lead to confusion over the standing of foundation, ordinary and honours degrees, and that placing the two-year foundation degree at level three could deter the non-traditional students it was meant to attract.
Universities have been invited to submit prototype foundation degrees, but some, including the Open University, have already launched foundation degrees set at level two.
In a letter to QAA chief executive John Randall, CVU chairman Derek Pollard warns that unless changes are made "there is a probability of such... confusion that the integrity and reputation of higher education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be compromised, and the chances of delivering the foundation degree as a major contribution to the secretary of state's objectives will be significantly reduced."
Dr Pollard, who is also director of validation services for the OU, said:
"It is not helpful for the QAA to come along and confuse the situation just as we need to convince employers that the foundation degree will succeed."
Colin Hawkes, pro vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said the QAA's proposals would leave institutions struggling to drag students through three levels in two years.
One source said the QAA's framework had angered some members of the Foundation Degree Design Group, who saw it as "a farce, designed to keep Scotland in tow".
A spokesman for the QAA said: "In determining where the foundation degree should be placed... it is necessary to consider the outcomes of the foundation degree and how they align with those of existing qualifications. The outcomes as described in both the original consultation paper and the prospectus suggest that the foundation degree is closer to level three than level two."