The law school, which announced its purchase by investment firm Montagu Private Equity in April, will become the first for-profit institution in the UK to be allowed to use the title of university. The acquisition is expected to be completed this month.
In 2006 the College of Law became the first independent institution to be granted the power to award degrees. It currently offers an LLM in professional legal practice, the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for prospective barristers. It began offering a two-year undergraduate LLB law degree in September this year.
"The Governors are delighted that the College's long heritage of excellent teaching and learning has been recognised in the granting of university title," Professor David Yates, chair of the College's Governors, said. "It is a welcome acknowledgement of the College's academic standards and recognition of its leadership in delivering innovation in teaching, learning and creating a more accessible and diverse legal profession."
Universities Minister David Willets told the Daily Telegraph that he was "cautiously optimistic" that similar organisations would be awarded university status in the future.
"We see this as the start of a process to diversify the higher education sector," he said. "This is the first real private university since Buckingham, which has been the solitary example of this type of institution for 30 years now."
The University of Buckingham became the first such institution not to receive state funding via the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) when it gained university status in 1983. It has formal charity status as a non-profit making institution dedicated to research and education.
University status in the UK is strictly regulated. In order to qualify, institutions must first be given the power to award degrees. They must then grow to accommodate at least 1,000 full time equivalent higher education students, of which at least 750 should be registered on degree courses, and meet 'good governance' criteria. According to the Government's guidance (6-page / 51KB PDF) on awarding university and university college status to non-HEFCE funded institutions, reports and assurances must be provided at the institution's own expense as part of a self-certification process.
Gayle Ditchburn, an expert in universities law with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that awarding university status to the College of Law was the "next natural step" following it being given the power to award degrees.
"Being permitted to use the designation of 'university' in its name will be a key factor in the institution achieving success in student recruitment, in particular of undergraduates and international students," she said. "This announcement is also very much in line with David Willets' agenda for opening up the higher education marketplace, and is likely to pave the way for other private providers with similar ambitions."
Professor Nigel Savage, chief executive of the new university, said that the change would enable it to be a "significant global player" and appeal to a wider range of international students. It already operates 'strategic collaborations' with similar institutions in Singapore, Beijing and Madrid.
"English law and English law firms are at the heart of today's global legal framework and cross-border business world," he said. "Our students gain world class, transferrable skills, knowledge and qualifications that enhance their CVs and increase their attractiveness to future employers. Having a university title will give further credibility to that and will support their global recognition as future lawyers of the highest calibre."