OXFORD university could face cuts of Pounds 14 million and Cambridge Pounds 9 million as a result of college fee changes announced this week.
Oxford and Cambridge each get about Pounds 35 million of public money for fees. This will be safeguarded in 1998-99, with a 2.7 per cent rise in line with the rest of the sector, but it will be eroded over the next seven or eight years to about Pounds 23 million each. The government says "efficiency gains" should be limited to 1 per cent maximum per year - about Pounds 1.4 million each.
But Oxbridge is supposed to do well out of a funding council initiative to reward good teaching.
The extra fee money now paid through the DFEE will go through the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This could mean legal changes to allow the council to give money to an education provider not designated by the secretary of state. In return Hefce is expected to set up "robust arrangements to maintain excellence".
Education Secretary David Blunkett has asked Hefce for further advice by autumn on its plan to reward excellence in teaching. He said: "Once we are clear that the new funding formula will work in a way that takes account of the excellence delivered by Oxford and Cambridge, we will confirm the transfer of responsibility for funding."
Oxford vice-chancellor Colin Lucas warned of a threat to the "historic autonomy" of colleges and the possible "severe dent" in public funding. Cambridge vice-chancellor Alec Broers said the decision reflected "a lack of understanding of the basis of the college system's success".