A Labour MP has challenged Scottish higher education institutions to spell out the impact of funding cuts.
Members of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, at its annual forum at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, warned that quality would suffer if the cuts continued.
But Tony Worthington, MP for Clydebank and Milngavie, said this had no political impact, particularly as these warnings had been heard for several years.
"No institution dares to say 'Our standards have fallen', but if collectively you feel they have fallen, don't say it will happen soon, find some way of saying it has happened," he advised.
John Arbuthnott, convener of COSHEP and principal of Strathclyde University, said: "The current round of cuts to my mind is likely to strike at core activities. The life is actually being squeezed out of us, and I do not use that phrase lightly."
He urged delegates to come up with solutions, rather than "descending into the whirlpool of despair", although the principals appeared to have been sucked into the vortex already.
Alistair Rowan, principal of Edinburgh College of Art, said the cuts were having a devastating effect on art schools, where some disciplines were taught by one full-time and two part-time staff. Larger institutions perhaps did not appreciate that axing one post could mean shutting down a section.
Stan Mason, principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, said it needed 50 full-time equivalent students to increase its academic staff by one. A recent quality assessment had criticised a student-staff ratio of 19:1.
* Scottish higher education generated Pounds 2.47 billion in 1993/94, and created an estimated 68,200 full-time equivalent jobs, about 4 per cent of the total Scottish workforce.
Only 30,500 of these jobs, 45 per cent, were in higher education, the remaining 55 per cent in industry and across all occupational groups, according to preliminary results from a survey on the sector's impact on the economy, carried out for the the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals by Iain McNicoll, professor of economics at Strathclyde University.