Lord Dearing, author of the 1997 report on higher education, has warned chancellor Gordon Brown that he must invest more in education or risk long-term economic failure.
Lord Dearing told the House of Lords on Wednesday that the government had to increase the proportion of gross domestic product being invested in schools, colleges and universities in order to catch up with competitor countries.
He said that the government was raising the amount of GDP spent on education by about 0.1 per cent a year when annual increases should be at least double that.
Speaking before Wednesday's Lords' debate, Lord Dearing said that the UK spent 4.9 per cent of GDP on education in 1998, compared with 5.5 per cent in Germany, 6.2 per cent in France and 6.4 per cent in the US.
He said: "If we do not (invest enough) now, it will be too late by the end of the decade. We need to aim for that type of increase for our economic survival."
Expansion in student numbers to reach the government's 50 per cent higher education participation target by 2010 would be impossible without extra money, he said.
Lord Dearing said that Universities UK had put the investment required in higher education between 2003 and 2006 at £9.94 billion. He urged Mr Brown to stick to his budget speech promise of increasing spending on education in the forthcoming spending review. This will set departmental spending limits between 2003 and 2006.
Lord Dearing added: "There is a long history of parsimony towards education in this country."
Lord Moser, chancellor of Keele University, spoke to The THES before the debate. He said that despite the government's verbal support for higher education, universities were in a perilous state.
Lord Moser said: "The most damaging examples are academic salaries, which I call ludicrously low. They have fallen well behind all relevant professions. In 1980 the average professor got the same as a Treasury under-secretary and they now get half.
"The other is the research funding. I cannot argue with the fact that top universities are going to get a lot of the research money, but it means that 50 per cent of the research allocation goes on all but five of the top universities and I call that miserable."
Lord Moser said the sector was further disheartened by student finance problems and excessive interference by government.