Higher education college heads have condemned an entrance levy and other Budget counter-measures as "irresponsible", "ill-conceived" and "divisive".
The Standing Conference of Principals, whose council of management met yesterday to consider the implications of the Budget settlement, said it would "eschew any immediate, ill-conceived measures which might be counter-productive in favour of a thorough public and political information campaign".
Leaders of SCOP also met Gareth Roberts, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, to present the results of a survey of higher education colleges on the likely impact of the Budget.
They reported that capital projects were in jeopardy, some courses would have to be withdrawn, and students were facing increasing hardship.
But most principals were opposed to the introduction of a one-off levy or top-up fees to compensate for the losses. "Such a reaction would be both divisive within the system and could send out confusing external signals," said Tim Cox, SCOP executive secretary.
On the threat from vice chancellors to withdraw from quality assessment, he said: "SCOP feels that any disengagement would be irresponsible at this stage in light of the efforts that have been put into the establishment of a joint planning group."
He added that college heads would be sceptical about reducing overall student numbers, unless there were guarantees on retaining funding.