Lecturers have been asked by their university to dip into their pockets and help pay their students' fees.
Managers at the Open University have made the plea as part of a scheme to give cash aid to struggling disadvantaged students opting for the "Openings" courses.
The fees for the course, which prepare those without the necessary qualifications for a degree or further education course, are rising from £195 to £625 next September.
The OU told staff in an email: "These are unprecedented times for the institution. We are determined to ensure we can continue to provide opportunities for the most disadvantaged."
Millionaire entrepreneur Sir Alec Reed and OU's pro vice-chancellor, Lord Haskins, said they will match any staff donations. Sally Hunt of the University and College Union called the plea to staff a "shattering indictment of government funding policy".