Imperial College is making a bid for degree-awarding status, which would allow it to award degrees independently of the University of London.
The college says it wants the powers in place as a contingency measure. Bill Wakeham, deputy rector of Imperial, said: "We are only seeking the powers, which does not mean we would be seeking necessarily to award our own degrees."
He cited as an example a scenario where the University of London ceased to exist. "I don't know that it will - I expect it won't - but it could," he said. "I don't believe for a minute that we will be (awarding degrees) in the very near future."
Hamish Common, president of Imperial student union, said Quality Assurance Agency approval was being sought, involving a "monumental paper-pushing exercise to see if the college should be allowed to award its own degrees".
Students would support such a move, he added. "The University of London name is obviously quite prestigious, but we would prefer to have Imperial degrees."
Professor Wakeham said the move would need Privy Council approval. Other University of London colleges, including the London School of Economics and Queen Mary, said they had no plans to go down the same route.