The Government should cut student places at second-rate universities to protect Britain's "world-class" research institutions, the head of University College London said today.
In an interview with The Guardian ahead of a speech tomorrow by Business Secretary Vince Cable, in which the Government is expected to set out plans to slash higher education costs, UCL's provost Malcolm Grant warned funding cuts could "decimate Britain's global competitiveness in research".
He urged the Government to consider reducing student numbers as the price for protecting research, even if that meant some colleges would have to close.
He said: "The biggest risk to the big research universities is a cut in funding for research, if that was done without proper identification of excellence then it would decimate Britain's global competitiveness in research."
There was a "direct human benefit" in areas such as cancer and Parkinson's disease from research-intensive universities, he added.
Universities were told they must save £200 million this year, on top of savings totalling around £1 billion over the next few years.
In his grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) last month, Mr Cable said the sector will also be expected to help the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which is responsible for universities find additional savings of £100 million in 2010/11.