A proposal to allow Irish universities and other colleges to evolve into private institutions has surprised academics - especially as it comes from the Higher Education Authority, which funds universities for the government.
Private institutions should have contractual arrangements with the state along the lines of some research-based US universities, the HEA suggests.
It has also sought to reopen the argument over tuition fees, which were abolished a decade ago.
Unions and opposition parties have criticised the proposal, but universities and colleges have made no formal response.
The HEA's comments are contained in a submission to a team from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has been asked by Noel Dempsey, the education minister, to review all aspects of higher education in the republic.
The HEA's suggestions come at a time of financial crisis for the republic's seven universities. They rely on the state for most of their funds, but their grants were frozen in this year's budget. Three have indicated they may have to declare deficits this year.