A move to persuade Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, to agree new criteria for the use of the title "university college" threatens to split the higher education college sector.
The bishops of Ripon and Leeds have proposed that colleges which meet six criteria should receive Privy Council approval to call themselves university colleges.
The criteria are that the college: * is empowered to award the degrees of a recognised United Kingdom university; * has a relationship with its university which goes beyond affiliation or association and includes representation on senate and council; * has its university's approval for the title; * has Higher Education Funding Council and Quality Council approval for the quality of its higher education; * has maintained this quality over a range of courses and qualifications; * has chosen a title which is not confusing.
Jim Burke, chair of the Standing Conference of Principals, said that the proposed criteria would be divisive because they distinguish between two types of institutions and equity would be difficult to establish.
Several institutions which have degree-awarding powers but no association with a particiular university would be left out.
Mrs Shephard, who met the bishops and college leaders last month, now seems prepared to review the situation.
Next week she is to meet the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, which has consistently opposed free-standing colleges being allowed to use the title.
The following week she will meet SCOP representatives.
SCOP has 55 member colleges. Ten have degree-awarding powers. The remainder are validated or accredited by one or more universities. Among the group there are 17 church colleges, eight of which are Anglican, four Catholic, two Methodist and another two mixed. Eight colleges already use "university college" in their titles.
A CVCP spokesman said that the vice chancellors were not keen on the criteria, which they had found to be loosely worded, vague and wrong in some places.