A director-general is to be appointed by the Russell Group of research universities as part of a "step change" in its lobbying ahead of the Government's 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.
The group - which represents 19 institutions - also announced this week that Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, would succeed Michael Sterling, vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, as chairman when he steps down in June 2006.
The appointment of a full-time director-general is key to what the Russell Group has said will be an expansion of its operations. It has said it is looking for "an individual of the highest quality" to fill the new post.
Michael Carr, registrar of Liverpool University, is due to end his term as the group's executive director in spring 2007. It is unclear whether the group will try to replace Dr Carr or whether the director-general post will amount to an upgrading of the executive director position.
Professor Sterling said the Russell Group would in future commission and conduct its own policy research rather than rely on Universities UK. But he stressed that it was not about to secede from the vice-chancellors' body.
"The clearer identification of the group as an important representational body has created the need for it to be able to develop for itself powerful evidence-based policy work and for it to be much more proactive in the promotion of that work," he said.
But an enhanced Russell Group would not mean higher membership fees in the short term because the group has been "running a surplus" in recent years and has built up financial reserves, Professor Sterling said.
In 2007, the Government will hold its second Comprehensive Spending Review, which will determine ministers' public spending priorities.
A Russell Group statement says: "The group wishes specifically to promote and support the contribution of top-level university research to national economic growth and innovation, and also to represent more clearly in an increasingly competitive global environment the value of the very high quality research-based education provided by its members.
"The Russell Group therefore needs to extend its investment in policy analysis and in representation."
Professor Grant said that he looked forward to working with the new director-general in "confirming the Russell Group as a leading organisation in higher education, which carries the confidence of government... and, of course, of its member institutions".