The College of Estate Management is the latest private institution to become a university college, with its principal warning that government plans to create faster entry to the sector for private providers “might be perceived as a lowering of the bar on quality”.
The award of the title to the non-profit institution, now known as the University College of Estate Management (UCEM), was approved by the Privy Council on 11 November.
UCEM has over 3,000 students - the vast majority of whom are in work - from around 100 countries on real estate, property and construction courses, offered solely through supported online learning.
It gained taught degree awarding powers in October 2012 after going through the current requirement to demonstrate a four-year track record in teaching degree courses.
In its Green Paper, the government has proposed reducing that requirement to three years and changing the definition of track record, as well as reducing or removing the requirement for institutions to have a certain number of students to gain university title (the present threshold is 1,000).
Ashley Wheaton, principal of the Reading-headquartered institution, said the university college title “cements” its status in “perhaps a more public way than degree awarding powers on their own do”.
Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, said: “By opening up higher education to new universities we are ensuring students can choose from a wider range of high quality institutions.
“Becoming a university college is recognition of the progress University College of Estate Management has made - and I look forward to more institutions having the opportunity to become universities as the result of the reforms we are proposing in the higher education Green Paper.”
Mr Wheaton, a former director of global learning services for Microsoft, explained that the institution is not presently eligible for university status, on the grounds of its student numbers. Each distance learning student counts as 0.2 towards the 1,000 student requirement, he said. Five thousand distance learning students would thus be required to meet the requirement for university title.
Mr Wheaton said that, in any case, he felt the title of university college offered a more appropriate “nod towards the vocational nature of what we do”.
He questioned whether it would be right to be “selling ourselves as a full-blown university when we are 100 per cent dedicated to vocational distance learning within a certain industry”.
Asked if he had concerns about the Green Paper’s plans to create faster routes to degree awarding powers and university title, Mr Wheaton said: “I am concerned it might be perceived as a lowering of the bar on quality.
“I do have concerns about the speed [at which] a new entrant to the market could [go] from zero to university status within six years.”
But Mr Wheaton also said that the institution had been “somewhat restricted by our validating partnership in terms of what we wanted to do” prior to gaining its own degree awarding powers.