Universities may be forced to charge higher tuition fees in the absence of more public cash, a vice-chancellor told MPs.
Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Guildhall University, told the education select committee on Monday that top-up fees and taxpayers' cash are realistically the only sources for funding universities' core teaching and research activities, as universities contend with 1 per cent year-on- year funding cuts.
Professor Floud, who also chairs the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' England and Northern Ireland Council, ruled out the prospect of more money from business, saying he would not expect companies to pay for the day-to-day running of universities. The CVCP has set up a group to investigate ways of boosting funding, including differential fees.
"An increased sum from students is one option," said Professor Floud, "another is increasing the sum from the public purse. We would welcome further contributions from business and industry but we recognise that they have pressures on them... so we are not hopeful that extra cash can be levered in for the general running of universities.
"We support the current [funding] system but we are engaging... in a reconsideration of the whole funding issue. We believe that the issue of [the] top-up fee needs to be seen within the overall funding of higher education.
"The reduction in the efficiency gain to 1 per cent was a very welcome one.
However, we actually believe that it is itself continuing to cause greater difficulties for the university system. In particular we face a significant problem in providing for teaching. And if there is a continued cut in funding then that will have a significant impact on the teaching infrastructure."
The select committee is looking at student finance in the wake of the Cubie report in Scotland. Members wanted to know whether the CVCP would like to see a Cubie-style report in England. Cubie recommended that advance tuition fees be scrapped and non-repayable bursaries reintroduced amid evidence that the funding system is deterring poorer students.
Professor Floud said he was concerned by two aspects of Cubie. One is the cost of applying a Cubie-style solution to the whole of the United Kingdom. This is widely estimated to be more than Pounds 550 million, based on the projected cost in Scotland. He also said that there were no guarantees that the money raised through Cubie's Pounds 2,000 graduate endowments would all be ploughed back into universities.
Professor Floud said that there was significant student hardship, causing undergraduates to work during term time. Despite this, he said that he would not describe it as a student funding crisis.
A spokesman for the National Union of Students, which also gave evidence to the select committee, said: "The fact that one in five students drop out, one in three full-time students regularly misses lectures because of part-time work, and that the numbers of mature student are falling, equates to a crisis."