Announcing his approval, Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, said the college had set out a powerful case which had been supported by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and by those who responded to a consultation exercise. The QAA had concluded that Bell's quality systems were the equal of those in higher education institutions.
The college has been in limbo since the mid-1980s when it was one of three council-run colleges along with Napier and Glasgow colleges of technology recommended for transfer to central government control.
In the event Napier and Glasgow went on to become universities, reinforcing Bell's anomalous position. Its 3,500 students are all on advanced courses from higher national certificate to postgraduate level; a quarter of its 80 programmes are degree orpostgraduate courses.
Ken MacCallum, Bell's principal, made it clear the change of status would not turn the college into a university. Such a move has to be approved by the Privy Council in London which requires evidence of staff expertise, the extent of research work, a minimum of 4,000 students on degree courses and an appropriate range of subjects. The next step is to seek degree-awarding powers and the college retains its ultimate objective of becoming the university for Lanarkshire.
In the meantime, Dr MacCallum said the aim was "to make our own distinctive contribution to higher education with the emphasis on qualifications for work, for career and for living".
Mr McLeish said his decision would provide Lanarkshire with its first HE institution, bringing benefits to the area's economy and local communities.
Bell will now join Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh as the only other HE institution which is not a university.