Rich universities' assets and private incomes should be taken into account when handing out public money, lecturers' union Natfhe said this week.
The move would help close a funding gap in which the richest universities receive four times more cash per student than the poorest, the union said.
Natfhe is due to launch a "fairer funding" campaign next week when it publishes figures that show the binary divide between pre and post-1992 universities in terms of income inequality.
The gap is perpetuated by "the unfairness of the different ways in which the two university sectors are funded", Natfhe said.
The inequalities are largely historical, due to old universities' reserves of accumulated capital, assets and benefactions. Union figures will show that three-quarters of the reserves in the sector are held by just ten universities.
Tom Wilson, head of the universities department at Natfhe, said: "The Higher Education Funding Council is prohibited from taking private income into account when distributing public funds. There is a strong argument that potential benefactors would not donate money if they thought it would reduce public funding.
"But we are not talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are feasible ways to partially offset private income in allocating public funds. It's levelling up, not levelling down."
Rich universities could be encouraged to earmark private incomes for specific purposes such as widening access, said Natfhe, thus freeing Hefce funding for poorer institutions.
An easy way to redress the imbalance would be to increase the 5 per cent funding premium paid for recruiting students from lower socioeconomic groups, who are concentrated in the new universities, to 20 or even 50 per cent, the union said.
It was also unfair, Mr Wilson said, that Hefce subsidises the old universities' pension scheme, the USS, to the tune of more than £20 million, but the new universities scheme, the TSS, is funded by the government.
The fairer funding campaign will be a key plank of Natfhe's pre-election lobbying, underlined by a series of local strikes over redundancies in the post-1992 sector.
• A separate campaign of industrial action on pay looked likely this week as Natfhe and the other higher education unions prepared for crunch talks with employers on May 10. All unions rejected the last offer of 3.3 per cent. Natfhe said its members were ten to one in favour of resuming action.