TIGHTER rules on the use of the title "university" were introduced by the government this week with the warning that anyone ignoring them could face court action. The regulations do not make title misuse a criminal offence but they could be enforced by injunction.
Ministers introduced them as amendments to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill to give the government control over "unofficial titles" and set new rules for use of the name "university college".
The amendments, backed by MPs during the report stage of the bill on Monday, give the Privy Council additional powers to approve titles including the word "university".
They place a statutory duty on further and higher education institutions not to supply or offer educational services under a name including the word "university" unless it has been authorised.
The new rules allow institutions with powers to award taught degrees to call themselves a "university college", but not those whose degree courses are accredited by a university or institutions that are associated or affiliated colleges.
Kim Howells, the lifelong learning minister, told MPs that "too many institutions are using unofficial titles that have not been properly authorised and have no clear meaning, which can be confusing to students and others".
He said that while the new rules governing university college titles would be brought into operation quickly, the statutory prohibition on using unauthorised titles would be brought in "after a reasonable interval".
The move came as pressure mounted to drop the word "university" from the title of the government's skills project, the University for Industry.
UFI chief executive Ian Johnston said this week that the UFI name was not set in stone. An alternative title, Learning Direct, is being mooted.
UFI developers are concerned about the "technical difficulty" of using the name during a quality clampdown, when colleges such as Bolton Institute are attempting to win approval from the Privy Council to use the university title.
John Randall, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, which is reviewing rules for granting degree-awarding powers, reiterated warnings that too liberal a use of the title, such as in the case of the UfI, could damage confidence in quality. "I think we should err on the side of a degree of rigour in the use of the title," he said.
Chris Hughes, leader of the UfI pilot scheme in Sunderland, said he thought the UfI should be renamed Learning Direct, which disassociated it from "an FE version of the Open University".
* Tuition fee Commons debate, page 3