The Government is facing a battle royal over higher education funding as academics, technical and support staff and university chiefs pledge support for a united campaign for more cash.
Some 600 people, mainly trade unionists, packed into Central Hall, Westminster, on Tuesday, in response to the call for a national day of action to protest at the "dis-astrous" effects of last November's budget cut of 7 per cent for 1996/97 including a 31 per cent cut in capital funding.
The Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe were joined by Unison, the GMB, the National Union of Students, MSF, the National Union of Teachers, the Confederation of British Industry and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals in condemning the cuts and pledging to support a high-profile campaign for restoration this year.
David Melville, vice chairman of the CVCP, said: "The cuts announced last year are biting this year. They are so severe that many institutions may not make it in their present form as far as the sunlit uplands that beckon in the post-Dearing world. We therefore call upon the Government to take care of this valuable national asset, while it is still an asset."
The call for unity sparked crit-icisms of institutions thinking about "going it alone" in terms of introducing top-up tuition fees - the London School of Economics was singled out.
Matthew Farrow, head of education policy for the CBI, said: "It is a mistake for universities to charge top-up fees. It is bound to put some students off higher education. And I suspect that, if there is a rash of institutions opting for top-up fees, then CBI members may want to criticise this publicly."
Earlier the audience heard speeches from higher education minister Eric Forth, Labour shadow minister Bryan Davies and Don Foster, Liberal Democrat spokesman on education and employment. Both Mr Davies and Mr Foster condemned the cuts while Mr Forth said that, while he could not predict the outcome of this November's Budget, he would make the Government fully aware of the "proper needs and demands of higher education".
The rally, which included union representatives from across England was followed by a mass lobby of MPs at Westminster. A similar rally was held in Glasgow, involving all 21 of Scotland's higher education institutions.
Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, warned the Scottish rally: "If the scope and quality of what we offer is eaten away, it is more than the universities themselves who will suffer."