Some students have three times as much cash available to be spent on them as others, in spite of paying exactly the same Pounds 1,025 tuition fee, new figures show.
Statistics compiled by university and college lecturers' union Natfhe show teaching income per student is 51 per cent higher in the old universities than in the new.
While each student is covered by a budget of Pounds 15,783 at Imperial College and Pounds 11,426 at University College London, this figure falls to Pounds 3,1 at the University of Luton.
Other analysis by Natfhe also suggests that the less money an institution has to spend on teaching its students, the more likely its students are to drop out.
At the University of Bristol and London School of Economics, which have high teaching incomes and low student:staff ratios, drop-out rates are only 2 per cent.
At South Bank and the University of North London, where teaching income is less than Pounds 5,000 per student and the number of
students per member of staff
tops 22, drop-out rates are 15 per cent.
Tom Wilson, head of higher education at Natfhe, said: "It is unacceptable that such vast disparity exists when students are all paying the same fee. If there was a similar disparity between the funding of state secondary schools there would rightly be a national outcry."
Natfhe has worked out teaching income by excluding research income from the total amount of cash coming into an institution. It has included government funding, fees, endowments, capital, money from conferences or other business ventures, donations and interest on reserves.
But a spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said the figures failed to take into account
institutions' different subject mixes and activities, as well as the fact that some non-government income may come with strings attached.
He said HEFCE funding for teaching was close to being even across the sector and would be by 2001-02.
Natfhe's findings will form part of the union's submission next week to the next comprehensive spending review.
The submission will show that total funding of higher education per student has fallen from Pounds 5,545 in 1993-94 to Pounds 4,587 in 2000-01.
It will seek extra government cash to level teaching income of institutions more quickly, better student:staff ratios and increase money for applied research.