The recreation of a council for national academic awards is heralded in the Government's fourth and final submission to the Dearing inquiry into higher education, quality watchdogs believe.
The Department for Education and Employment has told the inquiry to "explore the scope for a common framework for qualifications with a requirement that standards are defined".
The submission says "urgent steps" should be taken to address growing concerns over teaching quality and graduate standards.
Ministers are dissatisfied with the general terms used to define standards and the lack of clarity over degree classifications which, in the face of a growing proportion of first and upper second awards, could harm British higher education's reputation abroad.
The DFEE's view is that "it is no longer sufficient to rely on the award of qualifications without defined standards of attainment".
It questions whether objectives set by universities and colleges for the quality of teaching and learning in all subject areas are sufficiently demanding.
Quality experts say the submission signals the Government's intention to overhaul the higher education awards system, creating a new central body.
Geoffrey Alderman, head of the quality assurance unit at Middlesex University, said: "They are pushing Dearing towards setting up a new standards agency which is bound to eventually become a kind of super CNAA."
Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, said: "The DFEE's evidence confirms that how standards are handled is now the number one issue facing the sector."
* The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has called for continued expansion of higher education in spite of Government warnings last week that public money could not support it. In its oral submission to Dearing, the CVCP said: "Employers' organisations, including the CBI, are calling for higher participation rates and demand from students is buoyant. Frustrating these aspirations by restricting intake would be letting short-term economic considerations severely damage the long-term national interest."
It called for the inquiry to consider contributions by graduates through income-contingent loans and to encourage more investment by employers.
Dearing, page 3; leader, page 11