The rector of Imperial College London wants the institution to go private and join four other Russell Group universities in an independent US-style Ivy League.
Professor Sir Roy Anderson told the Evening Standard that privatisation would allow Imperial, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the London School of Economics and University College London to fulfil their economic promise.
“If you take the top five universities, they have enormous potential to earn income for Britain. How best to do that? My own view would be to privatise them," he told the paper. "The trouble is all British universities are too dependent on Government. You don't want to be subject to the mores of government funding or changing educational structures."
Privatisation would allow Imperial and the other four “elite” institutions to set their own unlimited tuition fees and take more overseas students, he said.
Sir Roy said: “Higher education is a product that Britain does superbly. Even if in 20 years' time Imperial is a private institution able to compete with the Harvards and Yales, like them, I very much hope we would have the scholarship endowment to continue to take people from all walks of life.”
The rector criticised the Government for being preoccupied with saving jobs in dying industries such as motor manufacturing. It would do better to concentrate on nanotechnology and new energy sources being developed by universities, he suggested.
A university spokesman added: "The rector's comments about independence were in the context of thinking about how universities respond to what will be a very tough future long term settlement from government (regardless of who is in power). In terms of timescale, any move towards greater independence would have to be very deliberately and cautiously staged [with] a 20-year horizon."
Sir Roy took up his post at Imperial in July 2008. He was previously chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence.