British Council officials have warned UK universities that they will have to expand courses for overseas students delivered in their own countries if they are to fight off the rising global competition for students.
Institutions will need to turn to "transnational" schemes - forging partnerships with foreign institutions, opening offices or building campuses overseas - as academic institutions from mainland Europe as well as America, Canada and Australia compete for a larger slice of the lucrative overseas student market.
There are more than 200,000 international students on UK courses overseas.
Figures gathered by the British Council show that UK transnational education is growing by 5 per cent a year, and suggest that in four years there will be more overseas students on UK courses provided in their own countries than on UK-based courses.
Heads of universities' international offices were given the warning at a conference in Edinburgh last week held by Education UK Marketing, the British Council's education marketing arm.
It followed news that a Universities UK survey had found that four out of five universities had suffered a drop in recruitment of overseas students in the past 12 months, with potentially serious financial consequences.
Christine Bateman, Education UK Marketing director, told The Times Higher that the British Council had been expecting recruitment of international students coming to the UKto slow down. But, at the same time, UK courses deliv-ered overseas were forecast to grow.
She said: "We do not see the recent recruitment figures as a one-off. What we are seeing now is a change in the land-scape. In the past we have enjoyed 6 per cent year-on-year growth. But that was never going to be sustained in the long term."
Singapore, China, Malaysia, and countries in continental Europe - in particular Germany - are emerging as successful players in the market.
A survey of Chinese students by consultants i-graduate found that courses offered by European Union countries excluding the UK are almost as attractive as those offered by Australia, while Singapore is now more popular than New Zealand.
Ms Bateman warned: "Given the growing competition, UK institutions are going to have to review their international strategies as well as their recruitment forecasts to ensure that what they are expecting is realistic."
She added that switching to this new approach would involve more costs, and could mean institutions would have to reduce their budget forecasts for how much profit they can expect to make out of educating overseas students.