All new police officers in England and Wales could require a degree in future, under plans proposed by the College of Policing.
Currently there is no service-wide minimum qualification for new police officers, but the college says the job is now of “degree-level complexity”.
It is consulting on the plans, which if approved could run as a pilot in 2017 and be fully adopted by 2019.
But the Police Federation said it fundamentally disagreed with the idea.
The federation, which represents rank-and-file police officers, said the plans would exclude hard-to-reach groups and those unable to afford university fees.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the plans – if adopted – would herald the “biggest change to policing in recent times”.
A 'lack of parity'
Currently, recruitment requirements vary from force to force, with some insisting applicants have A-levels or a certificate in policing and others demanding experience in a policing role.
The College of Policing, which is responsible for setting standards of ethics and training for the police service, says fewer than a third of officers have a degree.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the college, said the role of a police officer was as complicated as that of a social worker or a nurse – professions that only accept graduates.
Under the proposals, new police applicants would need to complete either a degree in practical policing or a conversion course after graduating in another subject.
Dr Sam Peach, who has put together the plan for the college, said: “The majority of other professions have graduate entry in the UK.
“There's a lack of parity with other professions and because of that the police is not recognised as a legitimate profession.
“We are looking to have degree-level qualifications for constable and masters for superintendent.”