New universities have debts of more than a third of their total income, according to the latest analysis of higher education.
But figures in Noble's Higher Education Financial Yearbook for 1999 also show significant exceptions where debt levels have soared at both new and old universities, in some cases exceeding 60 per cent of total income.
For post-1992 universities, average total debt, mainly long-term borrowing, was equal to between 33 and 35 per cent of total income in 1998-99. The average for pre-1992 universities was under 20 per cent of total income. The ancient universities were least heavily borrowed, with those founded before 1750 in debt equal to just under 10 per cent of their total income.
Debt levels were far higher for some universities. Notable examples were the London School of Economics (68 per cent), the University of London's Wye College (68 per cent), Middlesex University (64 per cent) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (63 per cent).
Noble Financial Publishing which produces the Yearbook -sponsored by The THES - stresses that many institutions may have higher debt levels because of specific investment programmes, which could increase income in years to come. The LSE, for example, has invested heavily in its building stock, including the purchase of new student accommodation and buying up the freehold of existing leasehold properties.
The Yearbook also shows that, while debt has increased along with the decline in government funding, the amount earned from research has grown by 51 per cent over the past five years. Counting all sources of research income, the sector earned Pounds 1.62 billion in 1998.
The THES reported earlier this year that London's Imperial College, with total research earnings of Pounds 117 million, topped the table. It is followed by Oxford with Pounds 114.5 million, UCL with Pounds 102.8 million and Cambridge with Pounds 100 million - more than a third of these four institutions' total income. The average for the sector was 14.6 per cent of income from research.
The Yearbook also highlights significant variations in staffing expenditure. The bulk of the institutions fall between Pounds 20,000 and Pounds 30,000. Noble emphasised that the figures do not represent the average amount paid to staff.