Higher education college heads have hit back at university vice-chancellors and lecturers who say that awarding the university title to teaching-only institutions would be a "disastrous" move.
The Standing Conference of Principals has challenged claims by Universities UK that white paper proposals to allow the title to be used by institutions with no power to award research degrees would scupper attempts to harmonise European higher education.
UUK has argued that relaxing the title rules would run counter to Britain's commitments under the Bologna declaration to unify the definition of a university in Europe.
The Association of University Teachers is "profoundly concerned" about the idea of an institution "not involved in research" being called a university.
But Scop said this week that both UUK and the AUT had got their facts wrong and that their protests were groundless.
Scop chief executive Patricia Ambrose said UUK was conflating the definition of a university used by the European Universities Association with the Bologna declaration, which does not define the role of a university in terms of research or any other activity.
She said: "The Bologna process does not even mention research... or seek to define the role of universities in terms of research."
Ms Ambrose pointed out that another recent document from the European Commission noted that the trend in higher education is away from the old research-based model of a university towards more specialised institutions.
At least seven higher education colleges are poised to apply for university status under the new rules that allow institutions with taught degree-awarding powers to bid for the title. More are expected to follow.
UUK president Roderick Floud this week said the "insular" white paper was in danger of treating European partners with contempt.
Speaking at a UUK conference, he described the white paper's attitude to Europe as a "major flaw". He said that the paper contained no mention of the UK's commitments under the Bologna process to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, nothing about European credit transfer and the diploma supplement and "virtually nothing" about supporting universities in Framework 6 or the European Research Area.
"Comparisons with elite institutions in the US are all very well, but we must be careful not to find ourselves out of step with the rest of Europe," Professor Floud said.