New criteria by which colleges of higher education could be granted the title of university college have been put to the Secretary of State for Education by the Standing Conference of Principals.
The SCOP criteria would include colleges which do not draw their degree-awarding powers from a recognised United Kingdom university.
Under the criteria presented by SCOP, which represents 55 institutions, the Department for Education and the Privy Council would approve the title if an institution had been granted degree-awarding powers by the Privy Council some ten colleges are in that position or if it is accredited by a recognised university to offer courses leading to the award of a degree and has the agreement of that university to use the university college title. Only six institutions have no link with a university.
In addition, SCOP told Mrs Shephard that any chosen title should be subject to the agreement of the Privy Council.
SCOP also believes that it would be appropriate to specify a minimum percentage of degree-level provision as a necessary condition.
Jim Burke, chair of SCOP, who led the discussions with Mrs Shephard, said that it was more important to specify the percentage of degree work than the size of the institution and the number of students.
"We have not spelt it out but it would be a substantial proportion, far, far, more than 55 per cent. Otherwise this would leave the doors open for some further education colleges," Dr Burke said.
He added: "We have a strong feeling that there is a new willingness in the department to examine the issue. Officials said that they were going to re-examine section 77 of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, which said that institutions that carried the word university in their titles were universities for all purposes. They are going to examine the wording and see how it can be redefined more clearly and how this would affect the title of university college," he said.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has opposed the concept of university college status and is due to meet Mrs Shephard in July.
Some larger colleges, like Nene and Roehampton, see the university college title as only a step towards their ultimate goal of full university status.