An American company is to apply for degree-awarding powers, reports Alan Thomson.
The first for-profit university could be established in the UK if a major American education company is successful in its bid for degree-awarding powers.
Kaplan International is expected to submit an application to the Privy Council for degree-awarding powers within a few months. If it is successful, the company can then apply for permission to call itself a university.
Kaplan, which made its name and fortune in the US preparing school pupils for SATs, said that the institution would focus initially on courses in law, business and accountancy.
The company has partnerships with Liverpool John Moores, Glasgow, Nottingham Trent, Sheffield, Hull, Wolverhampton, Huddersfield and Staffordshire universities and with the National University of Ireland. It provides courses in law, business, accountancy and some language programmes.
It runs 25 UK centres providing accountancy training courses under the aegis of its Financial Training Company.
Kaplan also offers test preparation for the LNAT (the admissions test for law), the BMAT, to test aptitude for biomedicine, and the new UK Clinical Aptitude Test, which is used by universities in the selection of applicants to medicine and dentistry courses.
William Macpherson, chief executive of Kaplan Professional, said: "We are looking to have an application in a small number of months. We do law and business and accountancy and those would be logical places to start from in terms of provision."
Mr Macpherson said that demand for higher education would continue to grow in the UK. He said that this was particularly likely for qualifications linked to specific career paths.
"We tend to be involved in education that leads to career enhancement. And there are a number of edges we might have over more traditional universities," he said. "For example, more flexible programmes. Many 18-year-olds who do accountancy, for instance, want to gain qualifications while earning. We can be more nimble in this area."
Mr Macpherson also said that a future Kaplan University might seek to run two-year degrees following the lead of the UK's only private, though not-for-profit, university, Buckingham.
Existing for-profit private institutions operating in the UK offer degrees in partnership with established universities, which remain the awarding body.
The path to university status for commercial companies was cleared by the Government in its 2003 Higher Education White Paper, which dropped the prerequisite that universities must award research degrees.