Quintin McKellar, of the University of Hertfordshire, said he was considering introducing an electronic registration system that would allow his institution to prove that its overseas students were attending lectures.
Professor McKellar said his comments had been prompted by recent visits from the UK Border Agency to Hertfordshire's campus as part of the government's sector-wide crackdown on student visa abuse.
All higher education institutions must provide evidence that their non-European Union students are actively studying in order to gain the UKBA's "highly trusted" sponsor status, which allows them to sponsor overseas students. But without an electronic register to prove attendance, it is difficult to demonstrate compliance with student visa requirements, Professor McKellar said.
"It is becoming clear that we have to have a real-time register of where students are," he told an audience at the Higher Education Funding Council for England's annual conference in London on 18 April.
"Will they need swipe cards? And is that discriminatory and does it affect civil liberties? The way the UKBA is going, it is going to compel us to do this."
Many higher education institutions already use, or are considering, systems that can monitor student attendance. Last year, for example, De Montfort University's executive board discussed a scheme to track attendance on campus by linking its wi-fisystem to electronic chips in students' ID cards.
Speaking at the conference, Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "When you have budget restraints, spending money on monitoring students is ridiculous."
David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at Hefce, added that universities should not be asked to "act as a monitoring arm of the state". "I find it ridiculous and shocking," he said.