The ability of universities to raise finance through loans or private partnership could be affected by student accommodation projects that run into trouble, the credit-ratings agency Standard & Poor's has said.
The warning follows delays in the construction of student halls at Nottingham and Lancaster universities by Jarvis plc.
Several UK universities have sought outside finance for student accommodation projects, receiving a public credit rating in the process.
But the problems with Jarvis have raised fears that ratings could suffer as a result, limiting an increasingly important source of income for institutions.
Craig Jamieson, an analyst at Standard & Poor's, said: "It is where universities are totally reliant on a project or contractor that the credit quality of a university could suffer along with the credit quality of the project."
But Standard & Poor's said it was satisfied with both Nottingham and Lancaster's responses to the difficulties with the contractors - although it will continue to monitor developments.
At Lancaster, the scope of the project is being scaled back and construction rescheduled. Standard & Poor's said: "If this process is properly managed, it should not affect the ability of the university to house its students and meet its residence commitments."
But it warned: "This incident does show that when so-called 'stand-alone'
projects encounter difficulties, it is often the university, as the independent beneficiary, that is required to invest unforeseen management time."
Nottingham's project also suffered delays. But its phased nature meant that only a small number of beds due to come on stream in September were not ready. Discussions continue to ensure the delivery of the 1,350-room project by September next year.
Jarvis, which made a £256 million loss in 2004, blamed delays and poor performance on mispricing of a number of schools projects, which had a knock-on effect on other developments.
It indicated it would not be bidding for further university accommodation after selling on its specialised management teams.