An east London-based private provider has gained permission to call itself a university after Companies House approved the nomenclature in error, with the government claiming that it had “no record” of clearing the “specific name” used.
The confusion over the status of the European University of Business has raised questions about the Department for Education’s processes for regulating university title and use of the word “university”, the gold standard of UK higher education regarded as key to the reputation of the sector.
Dominic Palmer-Brown, EUB’s vice-chancellor and a former pro vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said that his institution “has university status, having followed formal procedures, which took more than a year, to obtain registration with Companies House as a university, including non-objection for the use of that title from DfE”.
Companies House gave permission for the company previously known as EUOB Ltd to change its name to the European University of Business in December 2018, documents show.
While institutions have traditionally been required to secure degree-awarding powers as a precondition to securing university title, the DfE has recently begun allowing use of the word to new providers – whom it is seeking to encourage to enter the sector – without such powers.
The traditional route to university title is protected under higher education legislation. However, Times Higher Education has previously reported that the DfE had granted permission under different legislation – the Company Limited Liability, Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words) and Expressions Regulations 2014 – for both Gary Neville’s University Academy 92 and the University Campus of Football Business to use the word “university” in their names.
The name change for the EUB is an even more significant development, as the institution is not using any modifying word such as “academy” in conjunction with “university”.
EUB did not respond to queries from THE on whether it has secured degree-awarding powers. The institution, based in Forest Gate, lists its chancellor as Sir Graeme Davies, the former vice-chancellor of the universities of Glasgow, Liverpool and London, and the ex-chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
After higher education data specialist Andy Youell raised questions on Twitter about how the EUB’s name change had come about, THE enquired with the DfE and Companies House.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “University is a sensitive word that is protected in legislation in England. Any institution that wants to register a business name that includes the word ‘university’ with Companies House must first provide evidence that the responsible department does not object.
“There is no record of this formal clearance ever being given to any institution to use the specific name ‘European University of Business’. We work closely with Companies House and Prospects to prevent misuse of the term ‘university’.”
A Companies House spokesman said: “I can confirm that Companies House accepted the word university in this name in error. We are investigating this matter and will contact the company.”
Paul Cottrell, acting general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “University title has always been an important indicator of quality for students, so the government and the regulator must be vigilant in policing its use.”
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