The world-renowned auction house Sotheby's has been given Government approval for a prestigious new institute providing fine art degree courses.
The centre, called the Sotheby's Institute for Fine and Decorative Art, provides two MA degree courses - one in postwar and contemporary art and another in fine and decorative art - validated by Manchester University.
A higher education diploma in fine and decorative art and a postgraduate diploma in Asian art are also available.
The Department for Trade and Industry decided that the non-profit making centre could call itself an institute after the MA programmes began in September.
"The tremendous achievement of obtaining institute status places Sotheby's at the forefront of education in the commercial art world," said Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby's UK. "It's the first time an auction company has offered Masters programmes taught by its own staff."
Manchester University approved the MA courses in the spring and, together with the School of Oriental and African Studies, supported the centre's bid for institute status.
Vivienne Parrott of the centre for continuing education at Manchester University said: "We are absolutely delighted to be associated with Sotheby's. We have had links with them for several years and fully supported their application to become an institute."
The auction house set up an in-house educational studies department in 1969. This has grown into a much larger centre - located in London's Oxford Street - with about 700 students a year.
About 400 of them are on full-time courses and the rest on extramural programmes including evening classes and summer schools. About 75 per cent of the students are from the United States, Japan and continental Europe.
The institute has 20 lecturers and tutors, but experts from Sotheby's also take some classes. Such courses - which encourage students to handle and closely examine objects of art - exist virtually nowhere else in the world.
The MA courses last 15 months and have 45 students in total. The contemporary art programme costs Pounds 8,800 and the fine and decorative art course costs Pounds 8,600.
The diploma for higher education in fine and decorative art lasts two years; it is divided into four semesters at Pounds 4,350 a semester. The postgraduate diploma in Asian arts lasts three terms at Pounds 4,100 a term, and is run in association with SOAS.