By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education editor
A dispute has broken out over the use of the term "university" by some US organisations serving students in the UK.
Mr Ancram features in Preston University's UK prospectus
The Department for Education and Skills says it is reporting the Wyoming-based Preston University and Halifax University for using the title without permission.
Halifax has also upset the Conservative Party by saying its campuses in London and Birmingham were launched in a grand ceremony by the deputy leader, the shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram.
But a university spokesman insists this is what happened - and says there is nothing wrong with the use of "university" in a trading name.
Mr Ancram did attend a Preston "graduation ceremony" at a hotel in London last year and handed out diplomas and medals to students.
A party spokesman said that, while he was there, it was announced that its associated institution, Halifax University, was opening campuses in London and in Birmingham.
He had welcomed this, out of politeness - but that had been the extent of his involvement.
Halifax University's US website says it "proudly announces the official openings of three new campuses, as London, Bermingham [sic], UK and Dublin in Southern Ireland.
"These campuses were launched in a grand ceremony by Rt Hon Michael Ancram, QC, MP The Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs and the Deputy British opposition leader."
The disputed claim repeated on Halifax University's UK website
The Conservative Party spokesman said it asked on 23 June for this to be toned down. But it was still there this week.
In the prospectus for Preston University, Middlesex, are photographs of Mr Ancram at its ceremony in May last year, along with another Tory MP, Peter Luff, and the 1999 Miss World, Yukta Mookhey.
Protected by law
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) said in a statement that Preston University and Halifax University were American institutions with operations in the UK.
"Because the word 'university' is protected under UK law, both of the organisations ... have been reported to Companies House for use of the word 'university' without permission to do so in the UK."
Companies House regulates the use of business names.
Preston and Halifax are "licensed" by the Wyoming state department of education as degree-awarding private institutions.
Preston's UK campus is in Hayes, west of London.
Its website says: "Preston University Middlesex campus is the trading name of Preston International College London Limited and is a part of Preston University world wide chain."
It has a letter from the UK Home Office, dated 5 March 2002, confirming it as a bona fide private educational establishment and saying that its qualifications are "acceptable".
But the DfES said it did not comment on the quality or authenticity of private or foreign institutions.
"Our only argument with Preston is that they shouldn't operate in the UK using the name 'University' without prior Privy Council Office approval.
"The letter gives a Home Office view on whether Preston University and its degrees are 'acceptable' - for immigration purposes."
Preston's website says awards of degrees are conditional upon satisfactory completion of all coursework, a dissertation or thesis and written professorial approval - and payment of all fees, which are £3,900 a year for a Bachelor of Business Administration, for example.
"All official academic documents are embossed with the Preston University seal. These documents also have a covered letter sealed by the department of education State of Wyoming USA," it says.
It adds: "Upon request, Preston University Middlesex may get the degree legalized by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London where it will be signed by an official on behalf of Her Majesty's Government."
'Not UK degrees'
The dean of Preston University, Middlesex, Dr Prasenjit Kumar, told BBC News Online this meant that, for a fee, the Foreign Office would attest that the degree certificate, seal and stamp were genuine.
He stressed that it was made very clear, however, that his institution was not offering UK degrees - which would be illegal.
He said there were 300 students at the Middlesex campus, on both undergraduate and PhD courses, and a number of highly qualified faculty members, working both full-time and part-time mostly teaching business and information technology.
Dr Kumar said Halifax University was not run by the same company as Preston but was "under the same management".
Halifax had a £1.2m building in Birmingham and had "inaugurated" its London campus but did not yet have a site for it, although this is not clear from the Halifax website - parts of which appear to be identical to pages on the websites of other, long-established universities.
Dr Kumar said his advice had been that it was not an offence to use the "university" title in the UK provided it also said clearly this was a college's trading name.
He disputed the Conservative Party's version of Mr Ancram's involvement in launching the new campuses.
Dr Kumar said previously that he welcomed the government's move to compile a register of genuine colleges in the UK, in response to concerns about bogus students obtaining visas.
"There are more than a hundred private colleges with two or three rooms in London, I'm sad to say, but we didn't practise that way - we have a very reputable organisation, within our own limitations," he said.
"I'm so fed up with some other establishments," he said.
He added: "We are a bona fide establishment and meeting the requirements of the UK immigration rules."