UK universities could open campuses in Europe to offset the effect of Brexit, some vice-chancellors have suggested.
The higher education sector largely supported remaining in the UK and since the vote, has voiced concerns about the financial implications of leaving.
Universities fear losing research funding, students and staff in the event of a “hard” Brexit.
But some universities are considering expanding into Europe as a way round the problem.
The University of Kent has had a centre in Brussels for almost 20 years, for more than 200 postgraduate students from 60 countries, and also runs branches in Paris, Athens and Rome.
These sites are recognised by relevant legal and educational authorities in each country and allow the university “to develop and foster connections that enable our students to gain important access to professional networks”, said a University of Kent spokesman.
Other universities could follow suit as Brexit negotiations gather pace.
“You can imagine a situation post-Brexit where UK universities are operating as aggressively in Europe as they are in China and India and elsewhere, Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, told the Guardian newspaper.
There is evidence that UK universities are already losing out on research collaboration with European partners.
British universities, in collaboration with small businesses, receive £850m in research grants each year from the European Union.
Universities also worry that they would find it harder to recruit students and staff from EU countries if freedom of movement restrictions were brought in and the rules on fees for EU students were changed under the UK’s new relationship with the EU.
EU students currently pay the same fees and have the same access to loans as UK students – and Universities UK president Dame Julia Goodfellow has already called for reassurance for those who have already started degrees at UK universities that these arrangements will last for the duration of their courses.
Branches within the EU could allow UK universities to retain research links and European funding while also allowing them to continue to attract staff and students.
The Guardian quotes one vice-chancellor as saying that institutions were “window shopping” for the EU countries with the most co-operative regulatory regimes.
Germany, Finland, the Republic of Ireland and the Baltic states are said to be emerging as the preferred options of some universities.
Alistair Jarvis, deputy chief executive of Universities UK, said British universities faced “significant challenges”.
“British universities can thrive post-exit with the right support from government,” said Mr Jarvis.
“To thrive post-exit, we need government to take action to make the UK an even more attractive destination for talented university staff and students from around the world and develop new policies and funding to enhance international research collaboration.”
Oxford University says it has no plans to expand overseas, though vice-chancellor Louise Richardson has voiced concerns about losing staff to other countries.
“Our academics might decide to leave if they’re concerned that they may not be able to get their research funded in the future.
“There are many universities in the world who would be thrilled to have them and who are approaching them,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has told the BBC that formal negotiations to leave the EU will probably begin early in 2017.