Six new universities may be created after quality watchdogs considered higher education colleges' applications for a change of status, it emerged this week.
The Times Higher has learnt that the Quality Assurance Agency is likely to back bids from Bath Spa University College, Canterbury Christ Church University College, University College Chester, Liverpool Hope University College, Southampton Institute of Higher Education, and University College Winchester.
Three colleges - University College Chichester, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, and University College Worcester - may be asked to revise their applications.
After a board meeting on Tuesday at which the bids were considered, the QAA said there were a "number of cases" for which it would be making "positive recommendations for the future", and others where assessments had not been completed.
The QAA's final verdict will go forward to the Department for Education and Skills and the Privy Council for approval.
The Standing Conference of Principals, which represents higher education colleges, said it was anticipated that decisions would be fast-tracked so that the successful institutions' new status could be confirmed before the general election.
Patricia Ambrose, chief executive of Scop, said the creation of six new universities would bring "significant change" to the sector.
She said: "It is not just a question of this first group of colleges becoming universities. There will be others who are going through the process of applying for taught degree-awarding powers, some of which will then hope to gain university status."
Roger Brown, principal of Southampton Institute, which plans to call itself Southampton Solent University if its application is approved, said: "This is good news for the sector in the sense that these institutions will enable it to better respond to the challenges set by the Government in terms of expansion and meeting the needs of different kinds of students."
Bath Spa director Frank Morgan said his college did not see gaining university status as a means to joining an elitist club. "We do not regard it as promotion into a higher division, like a football team. But it will give us the ability to market ourselves overseas, put us on a level playing field in working with business, and give our staff reassurance about the quality of their work," he said.
Paul Light, principal of University College Winchester, which gained the right to use its University College title in June last year, said: "On the quality side, the work is done. But now we have to wait for the DFES and the Privy Council. Their approval could take anything from just a week to several months."