Ex-quality assurance chief John Randall has warned that consumers are demanding accountability from universities, following scandals surrounding the United Kingdom's railways, hospitals and food industry.
"The public in this country is in no mood to take on trust the services provided to it by professional people. Accountability is high on the national agenda for us at the moment," he said at a meeting of ESIB, the National Union of Students in Europe.
Mr Randall, who headed the Quality Assurance Agency before resigning in August, said he had received letters from academics praising his running of the QAA.
"Individual academics said they weren't initially keen, but had to admit their performance had improved as a result," he said. "Assessors said they had been cynical, but had learned valuable lessons."
Mr Randall encouraged students and employers to blow the whistle on poor courses.
"It needs to be set out explicitly what a student and employer can expect from a degree programme," he said. "If a student finds they are not getting that, they should use the quality system to say 'I'm not getting what I paid for'. "Similarly, if an employer believes graduate recruits have not reached the standards promised, it should complain to the university," he said.
The ESIB is compiling a handbook of international best practice in quality assurance from a student's perspective.