No cash, no expansion, was the threat from vice-chancellors this week after higher education minister Margaret Hodge said they were living in cloud-cuckoo land by calling for a £10 billion investment.
Vice-chancellors were stung by Ms Hodge's comments at a conference at Leeds Metropolitan University to mark the tenth anniversary of the creation of new universities.
It is clear that universities will not get the £9.94 billion that Universities UK said was needed over the spending review period 2003 to 2006 to expand student numbers in line with the government's 50 per cent participation target while maintaining quality.
At last week's UUK conference in Aberystwyth, Ms Hodge called the £9.94 billion bid "a dream". She made it clear that schools and further education colleges would win the lion's share of the extra £14.7 billion made available for education in the July spending review.
This week, Roderick Floud, president of UUK, said: "Anything less than £9.94 billion is not enough. Our position remains the same, that this money is needed."
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis urged universities to take a stand against the government, telling ministers to forget expansion unless the cash was there to pay for it.
Mr Willis said: "What is the point of dumbing down the higher education experience for tens of thousands of students simply so that the government can meet some meaningless 50 per cent participation target?"
Details of how much extra higher education will receive between 2003 and 2006 are expected to be announced in November alongside a government consultation document setting out the strategy for higher education over the next decade.
At the Leeds conference, Ms Hodge said student demand must drive the new market-led sector that would emerge over the next decade.