Scotland's vice-chancellors are seeking an extra £168 million in the forthcoming spending review amid concerns they will slip behind their English counterparts.
Scotland's universities won a record 30 per cent rise in the last spending review in 2004, with the higher education budget this year topping £1 billion for the first time.
This gave institutions in Scotland, where student tuition fees were abolished in 2000, scope to compete with English institutions, which benefit from the 1998 introduction of tuition fees and, in 2006, £3,000 a year top-up fees.
In support of Universities Scotland's submission to the Government's spending review, Bernard King, principal of the University of Abertay Dundee, said: "Time is running out. What are we going to do about the disparity between English universities controlling their own futures and growing rich through top-up fees... and Scottish universities reliant on centrally controlled funding?"
Top-up fees are off the Holyrood agenda, as no major party supports reintroducing tuition fees.
Having gained power in May, the Scottish National Party plans to abolish the £2,000 financial contribution made by graduates when their earnings reach £15,000. But as this money was always ring-fenced to fund student support, Scottish universities never benefited directly from it.
Scottish National Party Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary Fiona Hyslop, writing in this week's Times Higher , warns that Scottish institutions can only remain world class if they are well-funded.
In its submission, Universities Scotland set out its plans for 4,000 more undergraduates, 2,000 more taught postgraduates and 2,000 more research postgraduates, an increase in both blue-skies and applied research, a boost to knowledge transfer and an expansion of international links.
This, coupled with costs such as pay, pensions and utilities, demands a Pounds 340 million real terms increase by 2010-11, it says. But it pledges to generate at least half the costs itself if it wins a Government funding increase equivalent to 0.5 per cent of the Scottish budget.