Following the footsteps of banks and insurance services, British universities are proposing to outsource administration and research to Indian companies and institutions in order to reduce the costs.
According to a report by the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE), that is the future of higher education in Britain. Outsourcing to India and elsewhere was inevitable if British universities wanted to continue to attract students and international investors, it said.
The report surveyed the heads of 45 multinational businesses, asking them for their views on Britain's higher education and competitiveness, and most of them favoured a management-oriented approach to higher education.
Writing in the Guardian, Richard Brown, chief executive of CIHE, said: "The rise of the Asian tigers represents an opportunity as much as a threat. Rising wealth should lead to more parents and students choosing to access learning around the world, to multinational businesses wanting to recruit those mobile students and to UK universities partnering Asian universities on teaching and research.
"So far, attention has focused on recruiting students, but research is also crucial. Will British universities be prepared to share research initiatives with Indian partners? Or will this be seen as 'outsourcing' academic jobs?"
In order to succeed in the increasingly global education marketplace, British universities need to learn from businesses that have set up mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations with companies in several emerging economies, mainly India, the report stated.
Noting that partnership was the theme of a recent India initiative announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brown wrote: "If we can attract more mobile students, they (multinational companies) will recruit them here, develop them and send them to help run their expanding operations around the world.
"UK-domiciled businesses have more diverse leadership teams than most others and are keen to recruit the best, whatever their background. So there is a mutual interest in both businesses and universities working closer together to attract the best students to study here.
"Partnering offers one way for UK universities to offer high-quality research at competitive prices. It is not simply a question of outsourcing backroom jobs. It would involve genuine partnerships based on complementary strengths.
"The prime minister's initiative, and particularly the Indian initiative, offers a framework within which to develop this theme, including through some pilot projects. Further pilots could be developed with Singapore and China."
According to Brown, there were risks as well as opportunities in outsourcing research to India and elsewhere. He added that many British businesses had experience of partnerships in Asia, including with Indian organisations.
"Multinationals are increasingly seeking world-best research wherever that may be. There is a trend both to open networking and to the development of strategic partnerships that cover teaching, student placements, the development of the senior management team, and the various forms of research.
"Our report charts these different relationships. The trend offers particular opportunities for UK universities as we are often more international in our approach than some others."