Corporate universities would be created using taxpayers' money under plans presented to ministers this week.
Some 20 private enterprises, including banks, insurance companies and engineering firms, are pressing the government to stump up the costs for their developing foundation degrees. The companies would then pay for their employees to take the courses.
The proposals were made to higher education minister Margaret Hodge by members of the Council for Industry and Higher Education, which believes this initiative can help the government reach its target of 50 per cent of young people experiencing higher education by 2010.
The arrangements would be similar to those made for the creation of the National Health Service University.
Richard Brown, chief executive of the CIHE, said: "Employers are paying for the upskilling of their staff. The question is how can we link that with the (50 per cent) target?
"Some of the £30 million development funding (announced in the white paper) should go directly to major employers so they can develop their own bespoke foundation degrees for their companies."
He added: "The scheme is employer-led, it helps them take their staff through a progression route and it helps staff to be accredited within a national framework of learning."
The Quality Assurance Agency is at present considering whether corporations could be given degree-awarding powers.
The white paper also proposes the creation of a national network of universities called "Foundation Degree Forward", which could offer a dedicated validation service for foundation degrees.