An international academy for university management has been suggested by Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
It would offer courses, benchmarking projects, mentoring and shadowing schemes, seminars, study tours and advisory services.
Sir Howard said the sector needed to invest more in supporting efforts in management, leadership and governance.
Institutions needed "the highest calibre of leaders and managers prepared to embrace change through developing management practices and raising the level of strategic thinking" to meet the "formidable challenges" of the next decade.
He told the general conference of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's programme on institutional management in higher education that leadership, governance and management did not stop at national boundaries and that "there should be international cooperation in this increasingly globalised higher education world".
"We are being asked to do more with less money and resources, and that is a dilemma that faces us everywhere as governments face the importance of higher education to the knowledge-based economy and competitiveness," Sir Howard said. Universities need to become more customer-focused to respond to changing expectations and the increasingly complex demands of students, governments and employers.
Students no longer saw themselves as grown-up pupils. "They are increasingly customers, they are making a financial contribution. They are becoming more demanding," Sir Howard said. "Different organisations, groups and individuals all feel they have a legitimate claim on influencing the activities and priorities of higher education."
But universities needed "as autonomous institutions to set their own agendas and plan their own destinies", without losing sight of their "fundamental purposes of advancing knowledge and instigating a spirit of critical enquiry", he said.
Universities were beginning to realise they could not do everything because none was sufficiently funded to pursue all activities simultaneously. The UK government had recognised that people's knowledge and skills were crucial to the success of British business and that higher education was an important driver of the economy. The government's interest had become "a political imperative underpinned with performance indicators and targets," Sir Howard added.