Further education colleges want to restrict who can be a "college"
The title "college" should be given legal protection to prevent its misuse by bogus institutions, say further education college leaders.
UK college organisations are urging Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to restrict firms' use of "college".
At present, there are controls over which organisations can say they are a "university", but not for colleges.
The UK Council of Colleges says the lack of control means that bogus colleges are causing "real damage".
Bogus colleges have recently faced a clampdown from tougher immigration laws, which have been introduced to stop the misuse of the student visa system.
Legitimate colleges want the government to go further by limiting which organisations can use the label "college".
The council, on behalf of college organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has written to Mr Mandelson asking him to use the Companies Act to restrict which businesses can call themselves "colleges".
"Bogus institutions do real damage to the name of UK education and can pose a significant security risk," said Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
As well as providing an illicit backdoor into the country for people wanting to work in the UK, there are concerns that student visas arranged by bogus colleges could be used as a means of entry by terrorists.
College organisations are angry that legitimate further education colleges have to counter the bad publicity and confusion created by bogus organisations which are also called "colleges".
In a strongly-worded letter to Mr Mandelson, the college leaders warned: "It is difficult to over-estimate the damage bogus colleges are doing to the good name of UK education. Reputations have to be carefully nurtured if they are to endure."
A reply on the same issue from the Universities Secretary John Denham, received in January, suggests that the government has not ruled out such a proposal.
It says that, in the autumn, when the company and business names regulations are being reviewed, government departments will be "carefully considering whether it is is appropriate for the word 'college' to be included in the new list of words for which prior approval is required for their use".
The Association of Colleges says that any such restriction could only apply to new organisations - and that it would not affect existing institutions which were called a college.
It says there are a variety of different types of establishment which are already called colleges - making it difficult to decide a narrow definition.
There are many historic schools which have college in their title, including many independent schools. There are also higher education institutions which have college as part of their name - and organisations such as the royal colleges.
Gina Hobson, chief executive of the British Accreditation Council, questioned how such a restriction could be policed.
"While this may initially seem to be an attractive option it may not be without its problems," she said.