The lack of practical placements for nursing students is a barrier to growth in student numbers, Janet Finch, vice-chancellor of Keele University and Universities UK spokesperson on health issues, has told a National Audit Office conference.
Professor Finch added that when nursing education was brought into universities in the early 1990s there was no clear guidance on responsibility for capital investment.
"The ability of higher education to adapt and grow to National Health Service needs is seriously hindered by this."
The Department of Health and UUK have set up a benchmarking group, which will report in spring, to look at contracts between universities and the NHS.
The NAO report Educating and Training the Future Health Professional Workforce - Developing the Partnership calls for closer working between the NHS and universities.
A report from the Royal College of Nursing says nurse lecturers are given too little time to supervise student placements and carry out their own clinical work.
Charting the Challenge for Nurse Lecturers and Higher Education found that 82 per cent of nurse lecturers surveyed cited increased workload as a concern as student numbers increased.
Roswyn Hakesley-Brown, RCN president, said that there were areas of good practice where nurse educators felt supported.
"We will review these models of good practice and find ways to replicate them," she said.