Scottish principals have come out strongly against top-up fees in their submission to the Dearing inquiry into higher education.
But they warn that if the Government does not put a moratorium on higher education cuts until after the inquiry, some institutions will have to introduce premium fees.
The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals says it is not COSHEP policy to introduce top-up fees and "the prospect fills Scottish higher education institutions with considerable apprehension. For students would then be likely to face the worst of all scenarios - the prospect of abolition of grants, a restructured loans scheme and contributions to 'standard' or top up fees either to be met out of private resources (for the few) or (for the majority), additional borrowing from non-state sources."
COSHEP says the needs of institutions and student support are two distinct funding problems.
"We do not favour a policy that depends solely on the student paying more as the only way of 'rescuing' institutions from their present acute funding difficulties."
In the absence of extra funding from Government, COSHEP's preferred option is an income-contingent loan, and it warns that any money "saved" from maintenance grants should be ploughed back into higher education as additional funding, rather than being seen by Government as an alternative means of funding.
Richard Shaw, COSHEP chairman and principal of Paisley University, described the submission as "upbeat, robust and constructive", and said the message it wanted above all to get across was that Scottish higher education is a success story.
"We look to the Dearing inquiry and to its Scottish committee to back the Scottish brand of higher education which we consider is uniquely placed to assist Scotland to meet the great educational, economic and sociological challenges likely to arise in the new millennium."
COSHEP strongly defends the four-year honours degree as being in tune with the best practice in Europe and North America. There had been speculation that school reforms, including a two-year Advanced Higher, might lead to a change in balance between three and four-year degrees. But the Scottish Office confirms that the Advanced Higher is not a proxy for A levels, and only around 9 per cent of applicants will have them.
The submission says that Scottish higher education has a lead over most countries by having its own information superhighway, the wide-band Metropolitan Area Networks. But COSHEP warns that "significant additional investment will be required if the MANs are to realise their full potential."