The project to create a college-based university in the Highlands and Islands has entered a unique partnership with three universities to make sure it has the right credentials by the target date of 2007.
Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Strathclyde universities will join the board of governors of the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute and will determine when it can award research degrees. A new university must normally ensure that process is complete.
"This is without precedent," James Fraser, secretary of the UHI project, said this week.
"It is accelerating the process of allowing ourselves to be called a university which, otherwise, would take a very long time," Martin Wright, its head of communications, said.
The emphasis on the research capacity of the new institution is based on the importance attached by UHIMI and its partners to commercialise research and grow the Highland economy. A study 10 years ago estimated that a university in the area would contribute pound;70 million to the local economy and create 1,100 jobs.
Meanwhile, the process of applying to the Privy Council for the power to award its own degrees for taught subjects has begun. This process should be complete by autumn next year.