Publishing heavyweight Pearson is to enter the qualifications market by offering vocational BTEC degrees.
The company, which owns the Financial Times, already offers higher national diplomas and certificates. Its move has the enthusiastic backing of David Willetts, the Conservative universities minister in England, who described it as "a new rung on the ladder of opportunity".
Working in partnership with further education colleges in England, the subjects covered will be business, engineering, ICT and health and social care.
Mr Willetts has already signalled that he wants to see more organisations with the power to award degrees south of the border. "BTECs that are equivalent to GCSEs and A-levels lead to higher earnings because employers respect them" he says.
The colleges in England are broadly supportive. "We are interested in proposals from Pearson or others that may help more colleges deliver more high-quality, affordable and flexible HE to more students," said Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
According to the AoC, more than 260 colleges in England offer HE qualifications to about 170,000 students, but they need partners to validate these qualifications.
Others have already beaten Pearson to the punch in offering vocational degrees, most notably fastfood chain McDonald's, which has recently teamed up with Manchester Metropolitan University for its custom-made foundation degree in managing business operations.
It means the company can offer qualifications ranging from basic skills to degree-level courses. As a result, it has produced a college-style prospectus to be distributed to careers advisers, which will present McDonald's training as a seamless part of the education system.
Its own Hamburger University, in the north London suburb of East Finchley, trains 17,500 students a year at a cost of pound;30 million.
Rod Bristow, Pearson's UK president, said this kind of tailor-made education was proving increasingly attractive to employers. They now wanted a different education path to that of 30 years ago, as did students.