More than 200,000 new student places - equivalent to ten to 15 new universities - will have to be created by 2010 if working-class students are to be given an equal chance with middle-class undergraduates to participate in higher education, the Association of University Teachers said this week in its blueprint for 21st century higher education.
There are now 1.22 million students and this rate of growth would bring the total up to almost 1.5 million.
This assumes an age participation rate of 41 per cent. A lower figure, such as the Government target of 33 per cent, would not ensure equal participation from lower social classes, according to the AUT. It also wants to see targets set for increasing the participation of mature students.
David Triesman, general secretary, said that changes in funding would be needed to give young people from all backgrounds a chance to acquire a degree.
The expansion, plus grants for all, better staff salaries and other improvements would cost between 5.5p and 6p on income tax.
It would be unrealistic to attempt raising such large sums from general taxation. One option would be to tax employers for the use of graduate labour rather than look to students to finance their education.
Universities should also be declared a tax free zone. They should also investigate whether they were getting proper returns on their investments in science parks and intellectual property rights. Valuable and expensive products had been developed without universities gaining more than the rent of the park.
According to the AUT, the proportion of students from social classes four and five has increased since 1985, rising from a participation rate of 2 per cent to l6 per cent in l992.
However it is still considerably lower than the participation of classes one and two which stood at 52 and 45 per cent respectively.
"The creation of so many extra places may seem very ambitious, but phased over the l5 years to 2010, it amounts to an annual increase of less than 4 per cent in places," the document says.