The Quality Assurance Agency will look into unconventional uses of the title "university" by the University for Industry and British Aerospace's "virtual university" as part of a review for the Department for Education and Employment, writes Kam Patel.
John Randall, QAA chief executive, said it was "inevitable" that the title's use will be examined in a review that will also probe degree-awarding powers. He said the QAA had not been asked to give the DFEE informal advice on the matter in the run-up to the UFI's launch or during the development of BAe's initiative.
Only last month, university colleges warned that strict government proposals to restrict use of the "university college" title, first mooted by Dearing, could mean degree courses are shut. The proposals rule out the use of the title by colleges that wield it by virtue of having their degrees accredited by a university.
Norman Taylor, chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals, which represents colleges and institutes of higher education, said: "In considering initiatives such as the UFI, the government will no doubt bear in mind criteria for university status outlined in its Dearing response."
Dennis Farrington, deputy secretary of Stirling University and an expert on higher education law, plans to discuss the use of the university title next week at an Association of University Administrators' conference at Birmingham University.
Dr Farrington explained that the classic position is that the title "university" may be acquired through charter, act of Parliament or a statutory process for the change of name. It can be granted to institutions exercising degree-awarding powers if they fulfil criteria on size and breadth of curriculum.
Dr Farrington said: "Business names containing 'university' may be registered by companies only with government approval. There are no published criteria for this mechanism of approval."
He said developments in higher education, particularly those involving inter-institutional collaborations and new technology, imply that the criteria need "urgent" review if the title "university" is to be used with credibility.