Public schools and charitable funding will trump for-profit investment in producing an English Ivy League, according to the head of Britain's first private university.
Terence Kealey, Buckingham University vice-chancellor, told The TES that the #163;18,000-a-year New College of Humanities, unveiled by philosophy don AC Grayling this week, "won't work in the long term".
Professor Kealey said his goal of establishing a new private US-style liberal arts university in conjunction with the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference group of top independent schools was still alive, even though the plan, first announced last year, has so far failed to attract the #163;50 million-#163;100 million backing needed.
Professor Kealey believes it is still the best chance of achieving the US Ivy League model of a top university that can exist without state subsidy. He sees Buckingham, which became Britain's first private university in 1983, as a different beast, because it has less emphasis on home students and the liberal arts.
But it is growing investment in Buckingham that he says has distracted him from the Edward Thring University project with the HMC - named after a 19th-century head of Uppingham School - in the past year.
"We are still talking to donors," he said. "It has taken much longer than anticipated. It is obviously much, much easier to raise venture capital or private venture money than it is to raise donations, for obvious reasons - people are much happier to invest than give."
Professor Kealey suspected that was why the London-based AC Grayling New College project had been funded by #163;10 million of private investment. But he predicted it would be its undoing.
"Companies in the main tend not to last that long," he said. "Once the initial impetus is over and British higher education has moved to a new phase when higher fees are going to be the norm anyway, I suspect that the pressure from distinguished academics to break away from an impoverished state system may actually go down."
Professor Kealey said the "stars" involved, who include Niall Ferguson and Richard Dawkins, would have been better putting their names to a charitable university with the potential to last in the long term.
Bernard Trafford, head of the Royal grammar school, Newcastle, who has represented the HMC on the Edward Thring project, said: "I think it still could happen. We reckoned we would need the best part of #163;100 million to set up a new university. It's a lot of money and we haven't put the people together to get into that kind of game yet."