British universities have long relied on their reputation for academic excellence and the prestige of UK degrees to tempt fee-paying students from overseas.
Now, with growing competition from international rivals, an academic is suggesting that they add another dimension to their offerings: the thrills of English football.
A football-management contest being run in China by Coventry University, with partners including the British Council and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, has attracted students from across the country and is set to conclude in Beijing this week.
Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry and director of its Centre for the International Business of Sport, said the main aim was to attract overseas students to the UK.
He suggested that the project could offer wider lessons for universities' international-recruitment strategies.
"I see this as a template for other subjects, disciplines and universities," he said. "Having a point of differentiation from other overseas education providers is important. Clearly in this case it is football, but it could be another sport. In other disciplines, it could be based around financial services or car design."
The Coventry scheme is a product of the Prime Minister's Initiative 2 (PMI2), a five-year strategy launched in 2006 to strengthen the position of UK education on the global stage.
On 7 November, the four teams that reach the final will be asked to justify their decisions to a Dragons' Den-style panel, which will include Professor Chadwick and Paul Barber, executive director of Tottenham Hotspur. A one-week trip to the UK is up for grabs.
Professor Chadwick said the Chinese students involved had been "pleasantly surprised by the nature of British education".
"The whole essence of this, going back to PMI2, is that British higher education in general benefits," he said. "Chinese students won't necessarily just go to Coventry. They might go to Loughborough University, Leeds Metropolitan University or Northumbria University - all the institutions delivering sports-management programmes. But the more students Coventry can pick up, the better."