Ealing Tertiary College is recruiting students under the name of the College of West London, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary company of the college. Principals of neighbouring colleges accuse Ealing of putting up a "masquerade, " and confusing students. They have complained to the Further Education Funding Council.
They say that it opens the door to predatory trading by any college which wants to go outside its area without considering FEFC efforts to balance courses locally.
Leaflets have been distributed in Richmond and surrounding areas saying "Welcome to the first Adult Education in Richmond brochure from the College of West London". The courses are advertised as beginning in January.
Prospective students are given an address and telephone number, both relating to Ealing Tertiary College. Classes are run in schools close to the students.
Ann Risman, principal of Richmond Adult and Community College, who has complained to the FEFC said: "The College of West London does not exist as far as I am aware. Why masquerade? There is no reason to book a school under the name of something that does not exist.
"It is intriguing that this mythical organisation is offering these courses at a time when local education authorities are cutting back. It is like a practical joke."
Ian Wallis, principal of Ealing Tertiary College, said: "It is a wholly-owned subsidiary company which we bought two and a half years ago which has only recently been developed as a trading company called the College of West London Ltd. In constitutional law limited companies can use the word college."
He said if sufficient numbers of students were attracted, it would show that students were not confused. "What does confuse students is any attempt to prevent them going to a college of their choice.
"I am aware of only one complaint, from Gerard O'Donnell, the principal of West Thames College. At every meeting of principals he says that competition is the way forward so I do not understand why he should complain."
He said Ealing Tertiary College was not a suitable name for his college as it served a much wider area. "If you think about it any private trading company can set up with any name they want."
But Mr O'Donnell said:"I am very much in favour of competition. What I object to in this instance is the unnecessary duplication of publicly-funded provision within the immediate area served by another college and using a name calculated to mislead."
Neither of the two schools where the classes will be held was concerned about the name of the college. Simon Williams, head of Shene School, said: "It is what the college has to offer in providing opportunities for adults to study at the weekends that we feel is important."
A spokeswoman for the FEFC said: "The council has received complaints from other colleges in west London about the fact that Ealing Tertiary College is marketing courses through a subsidiary company. The council will be discussing these complaints with the college. The council believes that it is important that there is no confusion in the minds of students or applicants about which institution they are enrolled at and we shall be seeking assurances on this point."