The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has called for a continuing expansion of student numbers, backed by "fully competitive" salaries for staff.
In a trenchant submission to the Government's higher education review, the council warns that higher education has a key role in attracting the inward investment essential for Scotland's economic survival.
"The speed with which countries on the Pacific Rim are developing a highly-skilled graduate based workforce should be recognised as a major economic challenge to this country and its institutions in the long run, as well as a short-term opportunity to attract students from these countries".
There may be no immediate prospect of increasing the proportion of school-leaver entrants beyond the current level of 38 per cent, the council says, but it is an attainable goal for half the workforce to have an advanced tertiary qualification by the year 2000.
"These students will individually become more demanding in their expectations of standards of teaching," it says.
"As vocationally relevant subjects and skill-related learning become even more important factors in tertiary education, teachers and researchers will be drawn to an ever greater extent from the ranks of the most competent professional practitioners."
Academic salaries and conditions will have to be fully competitive to attract such staff, it says.
More funding from Government and institutions themselves will also be needed for adaptable modern buildings and technology, the council says.
While the Private Finance Initiative may boost the necessary innovations, it is less likely to help with the financial consequences of having to move out of buildings which are no longer necessary.
The council opposes any cut in the range of subjects available across Scotland's four main higher education regions, warning that students will increasingly opt to study locally for financial reasons. But it says that there must be more collaboration among institutions to avoid wasteful duplication.
The four-year honours degree should remain the cornerstone of Scottish higher education, but not all the increased participation need be at that level.