"Safety net" funding is being offered to universities to minimise the impact of a government decision to cut funding for students studying second degrees, as a petition against the proposal gathers momentum with more than 1,000 signatures.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has begun a consultation on how to implement the cuts, which caused concern across the sector when they were announced last month.
Meanwhile, as The Times Higher went to press, 1,074 people had signed a petition on the 10 Downing Street website calling for the funding to be reinstated.
The petition reads: "We believe to remove all such funding will remove a vital source of retraining where the skills base has changed over the years and mean only the personally better funded students will have a chance to retrain.
"We also believe that this sudden funding change will be harmful to universities, which are based around the ethos of retraining or continuing skill updates and should be reviewed under the premise of lifelong learning."
Hefce's models show that institutions with many part-time students are likely to be disproportionately affected, so the funding council proposes starting a £20 million fund to support universities running part-time courses.
Hefce also wants to exempt strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS), which would include science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, modern languages and Islamic studies.
The consultation document says: "It is in the public interest to ensure that we have a good supply of graduates in SIVS. For instance, we feel that it is reasonable to support someone who has an honours degree in history and who wished to undertake an honours degree in Japanese or Arabic, given society's need for qualified linguists."
The healthcare professions - including doctors and nurses - initial teacher training, and architecture and town planning would also be excluded from the cuts, which the Government says must total £100 million a year by 2010-11.
The funding council says it believes that public funding should continue to make a contribution towards training for employers and has proposed that foundation degrees and the new employer co-funded places should continue to receive public funding.
Hefce says it does not want the new funding policy to reduce an institution's recurrent teaching grant in cash terms, so it plans to provide "safety net" funds where necessary.