The extra Pounds 100 million for higher education announced by the government last month represents a 0.5 per cent increase in the unit of funding, ministers confirmed last week.
The lifelong learning minister, Malcolm Wicks, said: "If the number of students increases in line with plans for 2001-02 - which are compatible with meeting the government's target that 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds should have the opportunity to benefit from higher education by the end of the decade - then the real-terms unit cost will be about 0.5 per cent above that in 2000-01."
If numbers were held constant, the money would be a 2.2 per cent rise in real terms. His comments came in response to a written question from Tory higher education spokesman Tim Boswell.
A spokeswoman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said:
"Mr Wicks's statement is welcome but based on current projections of student numbers. We seek confirmation that these projections are solid."
Last week the funding council moved to allow universities and colleges to recruit 2 per cent more students than agreed, without facing financial penalties.
The CVCP welcomed the fact that universities would not be asked for further efficiency gains next year. But the spokeswoman said: "The CVCP's key argument in our submission to the spending review was that the 1 per cent cut in per unit funding had to be halted if excellence was to be maintained. We welcome the halt to the decline in per unit funding. It is essential that this principle be extended to years two and three."
But the CVCP expressed disappointment that the spending plans for 2002-03 and 2003-04 had not yet been announced.