A clear choice between introducing top-up tuition fees and allowing standards to fall faces many of Britain's cash-starved universities, the vice chancellor of the University of London has claimed, writes Alan Thomson.
Andrew Rutherford warned that universities could not wait for the Dearing review and that institutions would have to make some stark choices if extra Government cash failed to materialise.
Professor Rutherford was speaking at a University of London reception for MPs and peers hours after academics at the London School of Economics voted to support the principle of introducing tuition fees for home and European Union undergraduates in September 1997. The LSE's court of governors was expected to ratify last week's academic board decision yesterday.
Professor Rutherford told guests that funding cuts would damage quality within institutions and this could have far-reaching economic and social consequences.
He said: "Action is needed now to rectify our situation."
Professor Rutherford added that the University of London was not prepared to sacrifice quality and academic standards "in order to churn out a mass of cheap, low-quality graduates". Funding cuts were in danger of making the university "too cheap to be fully effective".
His warnings have been echoed by the heads of several of the university's colleges. Arthur Lucas, principal of King's College, said: "The officers are keeping top-up fees under review so that we are in a position to make a recommendation after we have had time to analyse the November budget settlement."
Graham Zellick, principal of Queen Mary and Westfield College, said: "My view is that if the Government fails to find a mechanism for increasing university funding then institutions will be left with no choice but to look to the students and their families for financial contributions."
Birmingham, Manchester and Middlesex universities are holding back from top-up fees while keeping the matter on the agenda.
However, University of Westminster rector Geoffrey Copland ruled them out. He said: "Government cutbacks are hitting this university hard but I don't want to see students suffering if I can help it."
The British Medical Association has condemned top-up fees because they would deter students from poorer backgrounds.