Cash could be shifted from from primary schools to support expansion in higher education, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, signalled this week.
He told members of the Education and Skills Select Committee on Wednesday he had been "wrestling" with the problem of how adequately to fund expansion as part of his deliberations on the Government's comprehensive spending review, due out on Monday.
"The difficulty we have with the Chancellor's spending review settlement is making sure we can properly resource expansion in post-16 education," he said.
The Education Secretary told MPs that expansion in higher education was being driven by improving school exam results and by demographic growth in the number of young people of university age up to 2010.
Barry Sheerman, the committee chairman, said the reverse was the case in primary schools, with pupil numbers projected to fall in the next few years. Mr Sheerman asked if there was scope for switching money from primary schools to higher education.
Mr Clarke replied: "In post-16 and in higher education in particular it is quite possible that we will see resources coming from elsewhere."
Part of Mr Clarke's problem is that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, used his March Budget speech to commit the Government to fully funding higher education expansion beyond 2006, when top-up fees come in.
Monday's spending review will confirm Mr Brown's Budget announcement that education spending is due to rise by an average 4.4 per cent a year between 2005-06 and 2007-08. In 2007-08, spending on education will be £8.5 billion more than in 2005-06.
But higher and further education's share of the overall education pot will not be announced next week, sources at the Department for Education and Skills said.
Mr Brown is expected to reveal the results of The Treasury's ten-year science review alongside the spending review.
Last month, The Times Higher reported that the Chancellor was set to double spending on science and innovation in the next decade.
Meanwhile, in a report published this week, the Commons' science and technology select committee criticised the director of research councils, Sir Keith O'Nions. It said that, until this month, Sir Keith had spent just one day a week in his job, which meant that he had lacked input into the science review.