28/11/2012 04:46 GMT

Ten New Universities To Be Created From Specialist Colleges, David Willetts To Announce

Ten specialist colleges are set to become universities under the biggest expansion of higher education for 20 years, it has been announced.

Universities Minister David Willetts is expected to recommend to the Privy Council that the institutions have met the criteria to be awarded the title of university.

The move is the biggest creation of universities since 1992, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said.

It comes after the government lowered the threshold on student numbers needed for an institution to apply for the title.

Institutions can now apply if they have 1,000 students, and of those, 750 are studying for a degree.

Previously, they needed at least 4,000 students, and of those, at least 3,000 studying for a degree.

Willetts said: "These well-known and highly-regarded university colleges represent over 1,200 years of history between them. It is right to remove the barriers preventing high-quality higher education providers like these calling themselves universities simply because of their size.

"I am delighted that they have taken up the opportunity offered by our reforms. This will lead to the biggest creation of universities since 1992 and will enable more people to realise their aspiration of going to a university."

The institutions being put forward to the Privy Council for approval are: The Arts University College at Bournemouth, Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln, Harper Adams University College, Leeds Trinity University College, Newman University College, Birmingham, Norwich University College of the Arts, Royal Agricultural College, University College Birmingham, University College Falmouth and University College Plymouth St Mark & St John.

All 10 specialist colleges are part of the GuildHE higher education group.

GuildHE chief executive Andy Westwood said: "The minister's recommendation that ten institutions have met the criteria to become universities recognises the quality, diversity and tradition that they bring to UK higher education.

"Smaller and specialist institutions are long established - in most cases for longer than many UK universities - and often lead the league tables in areas such as teaching and employability.

"They also have a strong reputation and impact in their localities and sectors - contributing to economic growth and to stronger, more vibrant communities. Gaining university title is long overdue and it helps to provide greater choice for students and for businesses, while enhancing the quality and diversity of the UK's higher education sector as a whole."

Professor Chris Gaskell, principal of the Royal Agricultural College, one of the 10 due to be recommended for university status, said: "We welcome the announcement from the minister that ten institutions have been granted the opportunity to apply for university status and title, and that the Government has taken this step to recognise quality over quantity in higher education.

"We are very pleased to confirm that the Royal Agricultural College will indeed be taking up this opportunity.

"The Royal Agricultural College is a world-class higher education institution.

"The first agricultural college in the English-speaking world, and based in Cirencester for over 165 years, we have a strong reputation for the quality of our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, our research and our connections with the industries we serve.

"Our decision to apply for the change in title reflects our view that 'university' best describes what the institution does and aspires to do; university title will benefit our students, their employers and the industries to which they contribute - and agriculture, food and land management are some of the most important industries in the world today."

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "These ten institutions have a long-standing tradition of delivering higher education and today's recommendation for university title is recognition of the quality and diversity they offer to students.

"Each institution has demonstrated a long and successful track record of working closely with the sector regulators of data, quality and funding as well as demonstrating strong governance."