Vice-chancellors will be taught how to run universities under plans being developed by the English funding council, Universities UK and the Standing Conference of Principals.
The government's higher education strategy document, now likely to be delayed until next year, is expected to contain plans for a "leadership foundation" or "leadership forum" that would envelop and extend the Higher Education Staff Development Agency.
The English funding council's strategic review, which was due to be published last month but has been postponed until January or February, will also contain plans on supporting leadership, governance and management.
Speaking at a Council for Industry and Higher Education debate this week, higher education minister Margaret Hodge told vice-chancellors: "There is going to be much more swift change in the market than we have been used to" and this "creates new challenges that need new leadership". She said it was crucial that universities were fit for purpose.
Adrian Smith, principal of Queen Mary, University of London, chairs the UUK-Scop working group looking at leadership. He said: "The time has come for a step change in the way we develop management in the sector. We need to bring much greater levels of resource into Hesda. Major funding has to come from the funding council."
The leadership foundation - due to start work next autumn - would have a strategic role in improving the running of universities. It would be targeted at senior management, service managers such as librarians, deans, heads of department and key policy people.
The foundation plans to channel money from the funding council to support good practice, identify any gaps in provision and commission work to fill them. It could also have links with business and overseas universities.
Proposals for the leadership foundation will be presented to the Department for Education and Skills in December.