THIS summer's spending review could split the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.
Some vice-chancellors have told The THES that if the comprehensive spending review in July results in little extra money for higher education the fragile CVCP coalition will come under potentially intolerable pressure.
The CVCP already harbours subgroups of universities such as the Russell Group of older research-led institutions, the Coalition of Modern Universities, representing the former polytechnics, and the '94 Group of small research-led institutions.
Fears of a split have intensified as it becomes clearer that higher education is unlikely to be a major beneficiary of any redistribution of resources by the review.
The government has said its priorities are health, education and transport. Within education, nurseries and schools are first in line for extra resources. Government economic advisers say that further education and the lifelong learning agenda are likely to come next.
The prime minister's policy unit, with a major input to the review, has told the CVCP that extra money to maintain quality in higher education "needs quantifying" and that money for access is seen as a "rather vague concept".
The unit has also hinted that public money may not be the whole solution to the problems of maintaining and improving the research and development base.
The head of one top research university said: "There are enormous strains on the CVCP and I cannot see it persisting in its present form. I think it will evolve."
The vice-chancellor of a large modern university said: "The CVCP is an inherently unstable coalition. I thought we would see a break-up at Christmas but the CSR kicked it into the grass for six months. The CVCP may decide to provide core services, but the notion that it could continue to speak for all institutions strains credibility."
The head of another new university said: "I am not saying that the CVCP will collapse but if it does then it will be the smaller groupings that we have formed already that will replace it."
Other vice-chancellors acknowledged the pressures faced by the CVCP but appealed for unity. The head of one of the country's top universities said:
"Given the changes at the moment it is more important than ever that universities work hard to present a united message and try to stick together whatever emerges from the CSR."
Another vice-chancellor from one of the country's largest universities said: "The CVCP has led from behind and a lot of us are going along with things unenthusiastically. However, if the review does not provide any more money then we should not shoot the messenger. Our argument will be with government."
CVCP chief executive Diana Warwick said: "The CVCP is actively working to secure adequate funding for higher education across the sector. Of course realism is needed about the outcome given the government's tight spending policy and its stated priorities. But whatever the outcome universities must and will continue to speak as one on funding issues. There is no doubt that this is the only way to make an effective case to government."