Under the shake-up all new nurses will need to be educated to degree level from 2013 in a bid to improve patient safety and improve the image of the profession.
This recommendation came after the four UK health departments asked the NMC to carry out a consultation and review of pre-registration nurse education.
The plans have been welcomed by the RCN. A spokesman said: 'We are supporting this move. It is something that is symbolic for the profession and gives due credit to the important role that nurses have.'
The degree courses will last for four years and be developed by the NMC. Nurses from abroad with an equivalent nursing qualification will also be allowed to practice.
Health minister and former nurse Ann Keen said: 'By bringing in degree-level registration we can ensure new nurses have the best possible start to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
'Degree-level education will provide new nurses with the decision-making skills they need to make high-level judgements in the transformed NHS.
'This is the right direction of travel if we are to fulfil our ambition to provide higher quality care for all.'
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: 'Many nursing roles are demanding and involve increasingly advanced levels of practice and clinical knowledge.'
The NMC will consult next year and announce the new standard and competencies in autumn 2010. Degree-level programmes using the new standard are expected to begin in September 2011.
Editor's blog: Will an all-degree nursing profession improve care?