The Oxford tutorial system - in which students have traditionally received one-to-one tuition from academics - is facing major cutbacks amid concerns that students are being "overtaught" at the university.
The plans to halve the number of tutorials in English to relieve academics - who say they are being "worn down" by their workloads - have been condemned by students.
Proposals to be considered by the university's senior tutors' committee next Tuesday could mean English tutorials being slashed from eight to four a term.
Students are complaining that the proposed cuts are more severe than reductions in the number of tutorials also being considered for modern history, modern languages, philosophy and classics. They have warned that the proposals would make Oxford a less attractive place to study compared with other top institutions.
But the university's English faculty, which has submitted an amended version of the plans after they were rejected by the senior tutors'
committee last year, argues that cutting the number of tutorials will benefit not only students, who are being overtaught, but also academics, who are now with a growing burden of responsibilities.
In a paper prepared for Tuesday's meeting, the faculty says: "It is very apparent, both from comments made on annual appraisal forms and in other ways, that the problem of overburdening in the English faculty is acute, and that it is having a significant effect both on the morale of faculty members, on research output and on issues of recruitment and retention."
The faculty suggests that lost one-hour tutorials could be replaced with 90-minute classes with eight students. It is hoping to win support for the idea in the light of a new academic strategy proposed by the university's educational policy and standards committee, which contends that overteaching at Oxford is common and should be reduced.
Terry Hoad, director of undergraduate studies in English and a fellow and tutor at St Peter's College, told The Times Higher : "We think that the amount of teaching offered in tutorials has crept up over the years, and there is a genuine case for saying that perhaps we have gone a bit further than is quite right. We feel it is perhaps better to rein back on that and leave students with more time for reflection.
"Oxford tutors are seen as a privileged group. But we are being worn down by extra responsibilities that are becoming more onerous," he said.
Linsey Cole, Oxford University Student Union's vice-president for access and academic affairs, said: "The scale of the cuts is drastic, yet they have been presented as a fait accompli .
"The tutorial is at the heart of what it means to study at Oxford, so we are naturally concerned when it is being cut for resources reasons."
Patrick Foster, editor of the Oxford Student , said: "One of the main reasons students choose Oxford is for its unique tutorial system. As the university looks to up its fees, students will not react well to the news that their cherished 'tutes' are facing the axe."