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Top universities 'may have to go private'

Some of Britain's leading universities may consider radical options such as going private if there is no increase in higher education funding, the Government's inquiry into student finance was told yesterday.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 20 leading higher education research institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, acknowledged the move "would require a lot of serious consideration", adding: "We would hope not to have to go there but we would have to consider seriously a more radical option."

Dr Piatt was giving evidence at Leicester University yesterday to the inquiry into student finance headed by the former BP boss Lord Browne. Her group has already advocated lifting the present cap on top-up fees of £3,225 a year and letting universities set their own fees for students. It says the move would have to be made in stages. Universities have already been told of cuts in funding of more than £500m, with the prospect of more to come, as a result of the public spending axe.