The University of the National Health Service, one of Labour's top ten manifesto promises, has temporarily changed its name to NHSU while it seeks proper university status.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "This will be a university but it will take time and we will go through the proper channels. We plan to launch the university properly in autumn 2003."
Another government initiative, the University for Industry, was relaunched as learndirect after market research showed that the original title alienated the target audience. Both initiatives are aimed largely at those without professional qualifications.
The DoH spokesperson said: "(The NHSU) initiative will be a university." There was no announcement on the NHSU at the Labour Party conference.
The DoH spokesperson said: "We are publishing a prospectus this week, and that will have questions at the end. There will not be a proper consultation. The aim is to go for royal charter status, and to build up to this over a period of years." A royal charter would enable the university to award taught and research degrees.
But there is likely to be some opposition to a new institution competing with existing universities. A spokesperson for Universities UK said:
"Universities have invested very heavily in developing close partnerships with the NHS to meet its education and training needs. There may be big savings to be made by maximising the use of existing university structures. This would be in line with agreements about partnership working already in place between universities and the NHS."
Graeme Catto, dean of Guy's, King's and St Thomas' Hospitals Medical and Dental School, chairman of the education committee of the General Medical Council and a member of the Workforce Taskforce, said: "I gather the concept is the 'skills escalator' approach for all NHS staff to help with career development. It is likely to be largely e-based and will bring access to libraries."
Linda Jones, pro vice-chancellor at the Open University, which has more than 15,000 students in the health sector, said: "We welcome the initiative, especially as it will give access to education to those previously denied opportunities, but would not want the initiative to replicate existing structures."