The Open University has had to upgrade some of its degree courses after the Quality Assurance Agency said that they lacked enough higher-level study, forcing more than 1,000 students to change their study plans part-way through their course.
The university's academic board has approved plans to restructure its ordinary degrees (BAs and BScs without honours) which students have been able to obtain with no study at "level three" - the most rigorous undergraduate level.
For the courses to comply with the QAA's qualifications framework, non-honours degree students must study at least 20 per cent of their course at level three.
An OU spokeswoman said: "We have been required by the QAA to bring our standards up to everyone else. Our hands are tied."
From 2004, graduates will need 60 out of 300 credit points at level three, 120 at intermediate level two, and 120 at the lowest level one, which is the level of study commensurate with a certificate of higher education.
The change will directly affect 1,014 students who have started their courses. Some will have completed lower level studies that will no longer be counted towards their degree, and others will have to change their study plans.
The OU spokeswoman said: "The changes were approved by the university council last month, but students were warned in November last year. They were given as much advance warning as possible. Because students stop and start courses at any time during the year, there was no natural cut-off point to bring in the changes."
She said just five students had written in to express concerns or ask questions.
Three students wrote to Sesame , the OU's student magazine, objecting to the plans. Dave Tutssel, from Surrey, said that students who were going to graduate after 2004 "are going to have to totally rethink our plans, at short notice. The goalposts have suddenly moved and I am very angry at this."
Karen Doyle and Alan Moss, from Cricklewood, told the magazine they would be withdrawing their registrations.
Another student, Aileen Harper, has written to Charles Clarke, secretary of state for education, objecting to the change. "I began my studies and carefully paced my continuing studies under the old regulations. These were consistent with my academic abilities and my opportunities to study. I am bitterly disappointed and let down."
The OU spokeswoman confirmed that one student, who said the change made continued study impossible, has been given a full refund, which was considered on a "totally discretionary basis by the pro vice-chancellor".
The ordinary degree is described as "intermediate level" in the QAA's framework, alongside the new foundation degree and diplomas of higher education.
The QAA rules say: "Holders of qualifications at this level will have developed a sound understanding of the principles in their field of study, and will have learned to apply those principles more widely. Through this, they will have learned to evaluate the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems. Their studies may well have had a vocational orientation, enabling them to perform effectively in their chosen field."