De Montfort, Leeds Metropolitan and Thames Valley universities and the London Institute and London School of Economics are the big winners of a competition for extra cash for capital projects.
Each will receive Pounds 4 million under the Higher Education Funding Council for England's programme to improve poor estates.
The council received more than 230 bids asking for Pounds 289 million. It has agreed to fund 45 projects in 37 institutions, worth Pounds 52 million. This will be phased over three years, with another bidding round next year. It is only a fraction of the Pounds 600 million which the council estimates is needed this year.
A spokesman for the council said: "We recognise that it isn't going to solve all the problems this year. It is just a small step towards helping them."
The council has set aside Pounds 105 million for 1998-2001. But analysis of institutions' returns to the council shows the sector needs Pounds 4.2 billion over the next five years to support the infrastructure of universities and colleges. Major repairs or replacements are needed in 37 per cent of higher education accommodation. All the successful institutions were offered a grant based on half of the estimated cost of the project, with a limit of Pounds 4 million. The grants will not be increased if costs go up and will be reduced if costs go down. They will have to raise the rest of the money themselves.
The institutions will be visited by estates advisers from the funding council to agree costs and decide how to pay the money, while council officers and members of the panel which screened the bids will check on projects given more than Pounds 2 million. The council is now consulting on the next round of the initiative and intends to provide feedback on this year's bids.
Five institutions have received grants from the funding council to help them take advantage of National Lottery money for museums and galleries.
Thirteen institutions with 15 projects submitted bids for the grants, which had to improve the regional, national and international importance of the collection, boost teaching and research in higher education and relate to lottery cash of at least Pounds 3 million.
Successful projects are: the University of Cambridge with a provisional Pounds 250,000 per year grant for the Fitzwilliam Museum; London Guildhall University with Pounds 126,000 per year for The National Library of Women; the University of Newcastle with a provisional Pounds 67,000 per year for The Hancock Museum and the Royal Academy of Music with Pounds 250,000 per year for the York Gate Project, including the Robert Spencer Collection.
HEFCE is inviting universities and colleges to submit PFI projects to be "signed off" by the council to make them more attractive to potential private sector partners.
It will review projects against set criteria, such as business need, commitment to the project and PFI potential, to ensure they are commercially viable and affordable.