Privy Council warns BIS against altering ‘sensitive words’ list

Privy Council warns coalition: keep restrictions on use of university-related terms. John Morgan writes

September 12, 2013

Officials from the Privy Council, the Queen’s body of advisers, have rebuked the government over plans to relax restrictions on the use of “university” and other higher education terms in company names, warning that bogus institutions could take advantage.

In February, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills launched a public consultation on business names as part of its Red Tape Challenge to cut bureaucracy.

The government maintains a list of “sensitive” words and expressions (currently numbering 161) for which permission must be granted before they can be used in company names. They include “university”, “polytechnic”, “charter” and “chartered” (many publicly funded universities have Royal Charters).

“Repealing the regulations could simplify and speed up the registration process for all start-up companies,” the BIS consultation says. It notes that under current rules, a pub near a campus wanting to call itself “The University Arms” would have to apply to BIS for permission.

Officials at the Privy Council – which advises the Queen on the granting of Royal Charters and grants university title to public institutions – took exception to BIS’ plans, as shown by consultation responses obtained by Times Higher Education under the Freedom of Information Act. “We were disappointed that the Privy Council Office (PCO) was not consulted directly over the possible deregulation of sensitive names and wish to strongly object to the potential removal of ‘Charter’ and ‘Chartered’ as sensitive words,” says its response.

The PCO submission, written by Ceri King, head of secretariat and senior clerk, adds: “I note that your list of consultees did not include any of the 129 universities in [the] UK, and only included a minority of the 900 or so Chartered bodies.”

To gain university title, institutions must have degree-awarding powers and meet criteria on student numbers and governance.

“University” and “polytechnic” must continue to be protected, the PCO warns. “Without protection it is possible that…an organisation could call itself a university without meeting the criteria, thereby devaluing the title. It would also be much more difficult…to identify and…close down bogus universities.”

BIS is expected to issue its response to the consultation within days. It is thought unlikely that there will be any change to the protections for higher education terms.

A BIS spokesman said: “There are a number of words that quite clearly are very contentious. We’ve obviously borne that in mind.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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