Decision on UHI becoming a university due 'in weeks'
A decision on whether a higher education institute becomes Scotland's newest university could be made within weeks.
The Scottish government has been advised that the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has met the levels of quality and standards required for university status.
The Privy Council has now been asked to grant university status.
An announcement should be made early next year.
UHI had hoped to be awarded the status in 2007, but the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) said more work was needed.
Following a fresh application, a QAA scrutiny panel has advised the government that the institute fully meets the quality and standards that university title carries with it.
Education Minister Michael Russell said he welcomed the agency's assessment.
He said: "This is a tremendous achievement for UHI and is a key step in achieving its long-held ambition of university title.
"The opportunities that university level learning has to offer the Highlands and Islands are considerable not only in terms of its economic future but also in terms of the social and cultural benefits this can bring.
"UHI is already playing an important role in enabling people across the region to access higher education without having to leave the area."
James Fraser, the UHI principal, said: "It would be an understatement to say we are delighted, but we must contain our celebrations until a final decision is made by the Privy Council.
"To be considered worthy of university title by the QAA is a marvellous achievement and I must pay tribute to our staff, both past and present, and to our supporters who have brought us to this stage.
"We very much hope that the people of the Highlands and Islands will have something wonderful to celebrate in the new year when they finally have a university of their own."
A new campus planned for Beechwood, in Inverness, would provide a new base for UHI and Inverness College, one of its partners.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the project.
UHI's other partners include the colleges of Argyll, Lews Castle on the Western Isles, Moray, Perth, Orkney and Shetland.