These pages explain the significance of the word ‘university’, especially where it is used in the name of a higher education provider. They explain how university title can be granted and how providers can apply for it.
What is university title?
The use of the word ‘university’ is protected in law and cannot be used without approval. From April 2019, the OfS has powers to approve the use of the word ‘university’ in the name of a registered higher education provider.
The application and assessment process for ‘university title’ or ‘university college title’ has changed over time. But it generally means that a provider has shown that it:
- holds degree awarding powers – meaning that the provider is authorised to grant, for example, bachelors’ degrees or taught masters’ degrees
- has a minimum number or proportion of its students studying on higher education courses.
We have published guidance for registered providers that wish to use either ‘university’ or ‘university college’ as part of their name.
Ways of granting university title
The OfS Register shows if a registered higher education provider has the right to use the word ‘university’ in its name and how and when this was granted.
Where the provider has this right, the Register states one of the different ways this title has been granted over time, including:
- by Royal Charter
- by Act of Parliament
- by the Privy Council
- by the OfS under relevant legal powers set out in legislation
- under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006.
Historically, higher education providers gained ‘university title’ or ‘university college title’ with approval by Royal Charter or by specific Act of Parliament.
More recently, but before April 2019, higher education providers gained ‘university title’ or ‘university college title’ by application to and assessment by either:
- the Privy Council under relevant legal powers it held at the time
- the Secretary of State under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006.
The OfS’s powers to grant university title have replaced the Privy Council’s previous powers.
Approval under the Companies Act 2006
The word ‘university’ is a sensitive word under the Companies Act 2006.
This means that the Secretary of State must give approval for the word to be used in the name of a company or limited liability partnership , or in a business name.
Some registered providers do not hold ‘university title’ or ‘university college title’. Instead, they have obtained relevant approval from the Secretary of State (via Companies House) to use a particular name or names, which include terms associated with ‘university’. For example ‘xx College University Centre’.
Before a provider seeks this approval, it must ask the Department for Education whether it objects or does not object to the use of the proposed name. The Department for Education usually considers whether the provider has a partnership to deliver higher education with another provider that has ‘university title’, along with other factors.
Higher education providers seeking approval for the use of the word ‘university’ from Companies House do not need to be authorised to award degrees. They may also not have a minimum number or proportion of students studying on higher education courses.
The OfS Register shows if a registered higher education provider’s use of a specific name or names, including the word ‘university’, has been approved by Companies House under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006. If this was granted by obtaining a non-objection letter from the Department for Education the Register makes this clear.