The company secretary of the Russell Group, Glynne Stanfield, has told Times Higher Education that 'universities could be in private hands in six months':
Mr Stanfield said private equity firms or "trade buyers" (established private higher education providers) could buy out a university in its entirety and thus gain its degree-awarding powers...
A private equity firm or trade buyer could buy a stake in a university, providing the institution with working capital in return for using its degree-awarding powers overseas, for example.
Private buyers would want those degree-awarding powers for use overseas for "online and distance education", Mr Stanfield said. "They would think there is a huge market in that, particularly in Asia and the Gulf."
The firm buying a stake would see the degree-awarding powers as an intellectual property right, Mr Stanfield said. "What private equity wants to do is take that current IP right and brand and do more with it..."
Asked whether whole or partial buyouts by private buyers were likely in the near future, he said: "I would expect to see something within the next six months, maybe sooner..."
The government has refused to release papers from meetings between David Willetts, the universities and science minister, and private higher education providers.