A multimillion-pound sweetener should be paid to universities to boost links with business, but only if institutions accept a new code for good management, a review for the Treasury will recommend this week.
The review of university collaboration with business, by former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert, will call on the sector to demonstrate good management and strong performance against a code of governance.
The report is expected to warn that some of Britain's top universities, notably Oxford and Cambridge, risk losing their world-class status if they do not run their affairs more efficiently.
In return for a more business-like approach, universities should be able to tap into new and increased sources of funding. They should also be given a "lighter regulatory touch" from government and funding chiefs.
The review was initially set up by the Treasury to examine how university-business links could be strengthened to benefit the UK economy.
But chancellor Gordon Brown made it clear that he also expected Mr Lambert to examine universities' management structures amid concerns that leading institutions were bogged down by unwieldy, slow and outdated structures.
The report, published by the Treasury this week after The THES went to press, is expected to say that most universities are well managed and have "cast off their ivory tower" image.
Mr Lambert will highlight governance reforms at Sussex University, which slashed the size of its governing council from 45 members to 25, and at the University of Wales, Lampeter, which removed dignitaries from its governing body. He will also praise Southampton University for introducing a central planning and resources committee that will speed up decision-making.
In his interim report in July, Mr Lambert warned there was a "general sense of unease about the direction" of Oxford and Cambridge universities "among business and government agencies".
Attempts last year by Cambridge to beef up the executive powers of its vice-chancellor failed, as all reforms must go through the entire community of dons, who can force debates and ballots on all issues.
Mr Lambert warned that both Oxbridge institutions could face state intervention if they cannot reform.
The review will endorse a submission by the Confederation of British Industry that "third-stream" funding - the higher education innovation fund - should be increased. The fund is designed to encourage partnerships with business and develop money-making spin-off companies.
The CBI said that while £2 billion of public money goes on university research each year, only £90 million is spent on third-stream activity. It said this should be increased to £150 million.
Speaking before the review's publication, prime minister Tony Blair said: "One of the most important things happening in the British economy is an increasing link between universities and business. The university sector is no longer simply a focus of educational opportunity, it is also a very, very important part of the future of the British economy."
Mr Lambert is likely to highlight concerns that the peer-review system in the research assessment exercise means that more weight is placed on pure academic work than on excellent collaborations with business.
Reforms could include changes to the composition of assessment panels to include more business representatives or to reward research "according to its business and economic impact".
- An increase in "third-stream" funding to promote business links and spin-offs, from about £90 million a year to £150 million
- A multimillion-pound funding stream to promote research with local business, administered by regional development agencies
- Reform research assessment to ensure research with business is rewarded.