Spending on higher education will have to rise by about £3 billion over the next four years if the Government is to meet its commitment to boosting student numbers, according to the Association of University Teachers.
The AUT has calculated that total higher education spending in the UK, including that on student support, must rise from an estimated £8.7 billion in 2003-04 to £11.7 billion in 2007-08.
Only with such a sum can the Department for Education and Skills hit its target of getting half of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education by 2010, ensure that extra students are fully funded and reintroduce student grants for the poorest undergraduates.
Projections by Stephen Court, senior research officer for the lecturers'
union, show that cash per student (the unit of funding) would have to rise from £5,416 this year to £6,199 by 2007-08, a 14.5 per cent increase.
The estimates are based on the assumption that the Government fulfils its pledges to maintain unit of funding per student as the number of students increases over the next five years.
If the DFES approved increases of this order, it would take the proportion of gross domestic product spent on higher education from 0.78 per cent this year to about 0.86 per cent in 2007-08.
When added to contributions from private sources, including student top-up fees from 2006, the total proportion of GDP spent on higher education would be well over 1 per cent. This would bring the UK closer to the average for higher education spending in leading industrialised nations, which it has hitherto lagged behind.
Mr Court said: "The overall increases in the UK education budget to 2007-08 are substantially above the forecast rate of inflation, and the planned growth in Government spending on science is even higher.
"But higher education's share of the education budget will need to grow if the Government's aims for the sector are to be met.
"In particular, increasing student numbers in England in line with the target of 50 per cent of young people entering higher education by 2010 will require greater spending.
"This is because the Government is committed to maintaining spending per student in real terms and is bringing back student maintenance awards.
"With variable fees being introduced from 2006, we are looking to the Government to keep to its commitment that additional fee income will be just that - and not used to make good cuts in public contributions to tuition fees, as has happened since 1998."