The National Union of Students said undergraduates deserved a guarantee of teaching standards in return for their pounds 1,000-a-year tuition fees. Union leaders, meeting in Blackpool, said it was unacceptable that membership of a new body set up to accredit teaching standards would be voluntary. They claim that too many lecturers consider standards of teaching the "poor relation" of their research work.
Lecturers, however, insisted that staff were already well trained in teaching techniques, and predicted that the proposed standards would be a success.
The NUS made the demand as part of a consultation on plans for the national Institute for Learning and Teaching, set up to regulate university teaching standards. The institute - effectively a General Medical Council for university lecturers - was proposed in 1997 by Sir Ron Dearing (now Lord Dearing) as part of his landmark report on the future of higher education which led to the introduction of tuition fees. The Dearing report insisted that tough guarantees on standards were an essential part of the tuition- fees package.
To win membership, academics will have to compile a portfolio of their lecture notes and other written work, proving they are competent teachers. They will also have to keep their teaching skills up to date.
Under current proposals membership of the institute will be voluntary, although many universities plan to insist on accreditation for new staff.
Andrew Pakes, the NUS president, said: "Students will demand high standards because cash is being paid over the table.
"They are complaining more because quality and standards are essential. I think there is large scale bad teaching practice. It's not to say lecturers are bad at their subjects, but there has been very little investment in how they communicate that knowledge. All students have the right to teaching and support from motivated and well-resourced staff. They also have the right to quality."
Liz Allen, a member of the institute's council and an official of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, accepted that the current proposals may be too complex, but said a properly run national system would be accepted by the majority of staff. She said: "This is something that should happen with the support and co-operation of academic staff and being too heavy handed would be a mistake. It is very difficult to say to people who have been doing a job very well for 20 or 25 years that they suddenly have to jump through all these hoops.
"It is important to get this right, but a lot of teacher training is already going on, particularly in the new universities."
University lecturers will meet employers today for the start of talks on their 10 per cent pay claim. The Association of University Teachers, which represents staff in the "old" universities, has threatened to disrupt examinations and university entrance in the summer if their claim is not met.