A high-level government committee to examine the scope of the private finance initiative in higher education is to meet later this month amid signs that many institutions are ready to sign up to long-term build-and-operate deals with private contractors.
In the past two months, some 64 institutions have registered PFI project proposals with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and around 100 private firms - ranging from building contractors, consultants and investors - have expressed an interest in developing them.
But Gillian Shephard, Education and Employment Secretary, has accepted calls for further debate on the PFI after mounting criticism from universities which think that the PFI cannot offset the huge cuts in their capital funding.
Officials from DFEE, Treasury, the PFI panel and the Welsh and Scottish offices, will tackle complaints from universities and colleges, and report back to her by late May.
Brighton finance director Maggie Deacon, who has just agreed one of the first PFI deals in higher education, said: "while it is perfectly possible to find private sector companies which will provide capital equipment through PFI, it won't make up the whole 30 per cent deficit." The equipment issue will top the universities' agenda.