Standards in vocational degrees and industry-related postgraduate programmes could be set in future by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, its chief executive Nick Tate said this week.
The government is paying the authority Pounds 5 million a year to draft occupational standards in collaboration with industry. Dr Tate said the standards could be applied to degree courses in universities and higher education colleges as well as further education institutions.
The QCA may work with the Quality Assurance Agency on benchmarking standards in vocational subjects as one of many issues to be explored in a joint forum. The work could take in degrees, access courses, and higher national certificates and diplomas, a QCA statement said.
Dr Tate said the forum would discuss what higher level vocational qualifications would suit higher education and whether these should be based on the standards being reviewed by the QCA. "There are issues about the future development of higher level national vocational qualifications and vocational degrees and postgraduate qualifications that may or may not be based on the national occupational standards that we have taken over," Dr Tate said.
"Although we are not pushing for university qualifications to become NVQs, we have these standards, and there is no reason why they should not be used to build other qualifications as well."
Dr Tate said he recognised that universities are autonomous in the awards they offer. The take-up of higher level NVQs in universities had been low, which might mean they are not the most appropriate qualifications for higher education.
But Dr Tate added: "There are other qualifications that might well be developed based on these occupational standards. If these standards are what employers define as best practice in an occupation at a high level, it would be odd if vocational degrees were not related to them in some way."
The QCA/ QAA forum, whose first meeting will be next month, will be chaired by Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. It will comprise nine representatives of further and higher education, employers and professional bodies. It will also consider the possibility of a single QCA/ QAA quality monitoring process for HND and HNC programmes, where there is much overlap between the agencies.
The forum will also look at the interface between a new national higher education qualifications framework being developed by a QAA working group and the post-16 qualifications system under review by the QCA.