Universities are threatening to pull out of nursing education after seeing budgets slashed by millions in one year.
Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, has written to Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, warning him that nursing and allied health professions education may no longer be viable at a number of universities.
"I am aware that some UUK members are considering pulling out of these activities," he wrote.
Professor Bone's letter comes in response to a Department of Health cut of 10 per cent in new health student numbers in one year.
In all, funding from the DH accounts for about a fifth of all university income, according to UUK. Professor Bone told Mr Rammell that the cuts were destabilising and would be a major blow to the Government's push to increase employer-led higher education. He also said that some universities were looking at whether the DH was in breach of contract. Many universities have gone into debt to fund facilities and face the loss of the income stream required to support this debt.
Malcolm McVicar, vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, echoed Professor Bone's concerns: "The National Health Service is an area where we have seriously engaged with employers, and it is falling apart around our ears."
Mr Rammell said that he understood the concerns, adding that the Department for Education and Skills and the DH were working to secure more stable funding.
Paul Turner, executive officer of the Council of Deans of Nursing, said:
"As strategic health authorities have sought to balance budgets they have turned first to education and training budgets. This is unsustainable and will lead to a shortage of health professionals in three or four years."