About 50 per cent of universities are expected to have some form of relationship with companies to provide training for their employees within five years.
The current figure is 20 per cent, according to Michael Zastrocky, vice-president of academic strategies at United States research firm Gartner. He said that universities had a bright future in the multibillion-dollar corporate training market. "In the future, any organisation will depend on knowledge workers who can apply their knowledge in the right way. That's the key and that's the strength of universities."
E-learning would be a key delivery mechanism for universities entering the market, he added.
However, Pippa Wicks, chief executive of FT Knowledge, said that she expected the "blended approach" of combining online education with more traditional classroom-based techniques to become the norm.
Her company did not feel threatened by universities' interest in the corporate training market, but regarded it as a positive move, Ms Wicks said.
FT Knowledge has partnerships with a number of institutions and she said that both parties had something to offer.
Universities brought awarding powers, academic rigour and their brand, while FT Knowledge could deliver courses to a large number of people, particularly through its experience in online learning.
Two examples are the Cambridge e-MBA that FT Knowledge developed jointly with the Judge Institute, the university's business school, and an online e-commerce course with Wharton University.
The Open University recently set up Corous, a division focused on working with corporate clients to build customised, supported online courses. OU learning resources or clients' existing materials are revised for online delivery.
Similarly, New York University established NYUonline in 1998 to target corporate education, as well as develop technology and courses for students.