Cuts in staff, building programmes and essential equipment will inevitably follow grant reductions announced by the English higher education funding council last week, universities have warned.
Pressures are increasing worldwide. For example, Hungary is counting on a World Bank loan to bring its institutions up to date and French students are protesting about overcrowding.
In England hard-hit institutions say that the funding council's share-the- misery formula will deliver a severe blow to the nation's biggest and best research centres.
The chances of an entry levy being introduced by certain institutions, even before the November budget, were now high, according to some vice chancellors.
Bob Boucher, vice chancellor of UMIST, which had a 4.6 per cent cash reduction - amounting to a real-terms cuts of more than 7 per cent - said: "The proposal for an entry levy is still on the table in almost all universities for decision after the November budget, but after these announcements it would be surprising if some universities did not now jump the gun."
Professor Boucher observed that the biggest cuts had hit the sector's most prominent science and technology research institutions, with reductions in capital grant averaging 31 per cent.
"If this capital cut is not reversed in next year's funding round, the Government will be signalling the United Kingdom's withdrawal from international competition in science and engineering," he added.
Sandy Florence, dean of the University of London's School of Pharmacy, which received the biggest percentage cash cut of 4.7 per cent, said his institution would struggle to buy any new equipment this year. The school had been left "reeling" from the effects of the funding council's balancing of research funding pots. Voluntary redundancies were likely and the school was "close to the crunch" of introducing compulsory staff cuts, he said.
Most London University colleges suffered big grants cuts and heads met yesterday to discuss the implications.
Rodney Eastwood, director of planning at Imperial College, with a cash cut of 3.7 per cent, said the only hope for the big research institutions was for the funding council to build more selectivity into its funding formula. "We will strongly argue for that in our input into the council's review of its funding formula."