Cambridge University has blamed "insufficient" government funding for an £11.6 million deficit, which it says is threatening its ability to deliver excellent teaching.
Although the blow was softened by news that the university had received its biggest ever single personal donation this week - as much as £45 million - the university said its financial troubles had left it with crumbling buildings and depleted libraries.
In the week after Oxford University said it was considering charging students top-up fees to tackle a more modest £2 million deficit, Cambridge said it had to "look at ways to ensure that it raises the maximum amount of income". It would not say if market-rate tuition fees would be considered.
The governing council confirms in a report this week that it is "deeply concerned" that its "Chest" income - from the funding and research councils, and from tuition fees - was forecast at £206.6 million for 2002-03, against an expenditure of £218.2 million. The anticipated deficit was up from £5.9 million and is increasing despite cost-cutting measures.
The council says Cambridge is plagued by "old and inefficient building stock..., a backlog of maintenance, under-resourced administration, out-of-date or nonexistent IT systems and under-funded libraries".
Cambridge said in a statement: "Increases in funding council grants have not kept pace with costs. There is an ever-increasing difficulty in meeting the costs of providing high-quality undergraduate programmes."
The council estimates that income for 2002-03 will be £135.6 million from the funding council, £41.8 million from academic fees, and £7.4 million from endowment income.
The council has instructed the planning and resources committee to come up with a plan to get the university into a breakeven position for 2004-05.
The council's warnings come as Cambridge confirmed a donation of up to £45 million from Herchel Smith, the scientist who helped develop the contraceptive pill. The money he bequeathed is likely to be spent on a number of science professorships.