Britain's traditional universities will be "well and truly stuffed" by online higher education providers unless steps are taken to embrace the electronic future of education.
This was just one view put forward by Napier University's vice- principal Michael Thorne at the launch of Universities in the Future, a book published by the Office for Science and Technology this week.
"Students will be able to demand learning where and when they want it through virtual universities, but they can and will go to global providers for this. It will be harder to protect Britain's reputation with the globalisation of higher education," he said.
Also speaking at the launch was John Sizer, chief executive of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and a member of the Foresight steering committee, which commissioned the book.
"The image of the isolated computer buff student is no longer realistic. American students who took part in online classwork said it was more creative and fulfilling than traditional methods. University learning is no longer a single intense experience," Professor Sizer said.
Professor Thorne said that the recent Wall Street interest shown in American virtual universities is evidence of the opportunities now available. But "restrictions and regulations need to be removed if we are to move into the marketplace", he added.
Sir Graham Hills, former principal of Strathclyde University and adviser to the University of the Highlands and Islands, saw the digital era differently. "What would we do with all the professors?" he asked, comparing their plight with turkeys at Christmas.
Opinion, page 14