All new police officers in England and Wales will need a degree in future, the College of Policing has said.
They will be able to gain the required qualification in three ways.
Among the options to be adopted by all 43 forces across the two nations is a three-year “degree apprenticeship” to be introduced next year.
Recruits will receive a salary, with the academic component funded by their force.
Someone thinking of becoming an officer can also take a degree in policing privately, but would then have to apply to a force after graduating.
And anyone who already has a degree in another field will be able to take a funded six-month postgraduate conversion course.
The College of Policing’s chief executive, Chief Constable Alex Marshall, said discussions were under way with 12 universities.
“The nature of police work is getting quite complex and it is quite contentious and the public expectation is that you’ll be patrolling in my street, and by the way you’ll (also) be patrolling online,” he said.
“We don’t think the investment has been made in policing in terms of professional development and this is one of the ways that we start to address that.”
The apprenticeship levy, due to come in next April, is expected to provide the money for the funded three-year courses.
Under the levy, employers with a pay bill of more than £3m each year will be forced to spend the equivalent of 0.5% of it on apprenticeships.
It is not only new recruits who will be educated to a higher standard.
In future, anyone applying for the rank of assistant chief constable or above will need a master’s degree.
The head of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Andy Fittes, said his organisation generally supported apprenticeships, while also sounding a note of caution.
“What is the benefit to the public, in terms of policing delivery, to have officers hold pre-joining qualifications, or serving officers becoming accredited?” he asked.
But the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for workforce, Chief Constable Giles York, said: “As crime and demand change, so must policing.
“Our workforce is our most valuable resource, so police officers and staff need the right skills, knowledge and attributes to prevent harm and keep people safe in the 21st century.
“The changes announced today will help modernise the service and improve our ability to attract and retain really good people.”