The number of managers working in UK higher education has risen by 30 per cent in four years, and some believe the trend will accelerate under a fiercer fees market.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency recently released figures showing that the number of "managers, professional staff and technicians" employed in the sector rose by 17 per cent between 2003-04 and 2008-09, outstripping the 11 per cent increase in academics and the 7 per cent rise in student numbers over the same period.
However, when Times Higher Education asked for a breakdown on the specific increase in the "managers" sub-category, the gap widened even further.
According to Hesa, the number of managers increased from 12,5 in 2004-05 to 15,965 in 2008-09 - a 30 per cent increase in four years.
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, criticised the increase in managers in a speech at the recent Universities UK conference.
He said that "we owe it to the taxpayer and the student to hold down these costs" and invited institutions to identify needless bureaucracy that increases recruitment of administrative staff.
But Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, said: "It isn't just the demands of regulation, it is also the demands of the market. We have large numbers of people engaged in marketing, selling, branding, recruitment - all of which will increase even more if we adopt truly variable fees."
Professor Brown said the number of managers in the UK was "nothing compared with the US", arguing that more than three-quarters of Harvard University's staff are not engaged in academic activities.
Nicola Dandridge, UUK chief executive, said managers make up 4.2 per cent of all higher education staff in the UK, with academics accounting for 46.8 per cent.
She highlighted the changing activities of universities, such as generating income from non-state sources, widening participation and increased demands in fields such as quality assurance and research assessment.
"Many of these require staff in professional and managerial roles, working with and alongside academics," she said. "Increasingly it is becoming harder, and in fact sometimes entirely meaningless, to distinguish between managerial, professional and academic staff."
Celia Whitchurch, lecturer at the Centre for Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London, said she was yet to see Hesa's definition of a "manager".
She suggested that some on non-academic contracts may be undertaking work previously carried out by those on academic contracts, thus freeing academics to conduct activities such as research.
She noted that "increasingly sophisticated approaches to institutional planning" mean there are more non-academic staff conducting research in fields such as application trends and recruitment patterns.
However, Dr Whitchurch said she suspected that additional complexity does not account for all of the rise in manager numbers.