The UK’s only for-profit university college is in talks about running the "back-office" functions of publicly funded universities.
BPP University College, which offers its own degrees in business, law and finance, has been approached by "several" institutions about the possibility of running services such as IT support, estate management and procurement.
A spokeswoman for the private provider, whose parent company is the US for-profit giant Apollo Group, said discussions with three of the universities about the move were "serious", although the development was still at the early stages.
Many publicly funded universities already outsource some of their activities to the private sector, with one example being the building and management of student accommodation carried out by companies such as University Partnerships Programme. However, the government is keen on universities doing more to outsource and share services.
"BPP has been in discussions for some time now about how the private sector can work in partnership to reduce the back-office costs for universities and further education colleges, and gain more efficiencies and flexibility on pricing," said the spokeswoman.
"This is something that our US parent does through its subsidiary, the Institute for Professional Development.
"Several universities in the UK have already made approaches to BPP to discuss this type of initiative; we are currently in serious discussions with three universities about how we can support their continued development, but it is still at the early stages and, of course, subject to the content of the higher education White Paper."
She stressed that the talks were in no way about "taking over" a university, but added that the company believed "there is a role for private providers to work with the public sector".
BPP, which is planning a large expansion of its own undergraduate numbers in 2012-13 by undercutting other universities' fees, has already built a partnership with a further education college in Swindon, which will offer BPP degrees from September.