To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether an institution in England which does not have formal degree-awarding powers and which does not receive public funds can call itself a university; and if not, under which legislation this is prevented.
6 December 2016
The criteria for obtaining University Title in England are not legislative, but are set out in departmental guidance (‘Guidance for higher education providers for applying for university title and university college title’ is available at www.gov.uk, by searching for its title). These are the same regardless of whether a provider is publicly funded or not. One of the criteria is having taught degree-awarding powers. It is therefore not possible to obtain University Title without having degree-awarding powers.
If the Secretary of State is satisfied that the criteria have been met and that a provider’s preferred name is not likely to be confusing, the next steps will vary depending on the constitution of the organisation and/or its funding status. In general:
- Publicly funded higher education providers can obtain University Title from the Privy Council under either Section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, or Section 39 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. This usually takes the form of amendments to the provider’s governing documents to reflect the new name.
- Alternative Providers cannot obtain University Title via the Privy Council, but can instead do so under the Companies Act. The criteria as set out in the guidance still apply. “University” is a sensitive word under company law, which means permission from the Secretary of State under the Companies Act 2006, following a non-objection letter from the Department for Education, is required before it can be used in a business or company name.
There are limited circumstances where a business may be permitted to use the word “university” in their company or business name, without obtaining University Title. For example, a student union may be given such permission. However, the use of a name in this way does not convey the status of a university.
 Company, Limited Liability Partnerships and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014 (S.I. 2014/3140)