Universities 'desperate' for £9bn before top-up fees begin

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The Independent Online

Almost £9bn in extra Government funding is desperately needed before the introduction of top-up fees, universities warned yesterday.

Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, said the fees would not come in soon enough to solve 20 years of underfunding. The vice-chancellors of England and Northern Ireland bid for £8.79bn in Gordon Brown's spending review that will determine Government spending for the three years to April 2008.

If agreed, public funding for universities would rise by more than 30 per cent a year. Scottish and Welsh universities will soon publish their bids. The total is expected to top the £9.94bn they demanded in 2002. That appeal contributed to the Government's adoption of its highly controversial top-up fee policy.

But top-up fees, due to be introduced in 2006, will not bring in enough money on their own, Ivor Crewe, UUK president, said yesterday. Asked if it was realistic to expect university funding from the taxpayer to rise by more than 30 per cent, Professor Crewe said:"I'm afraid that's what happens when you impose real cuts in funding over a 20-year period on a sector you want to expand."

However, universities are unlikely to receive the full amount of their demand. More money is desperately needed to tackle crumbling university buildingsand ensure capacity for the 30,000 students a year the Government plans to get into university by the end of the decade Professor Crewe said.

Diana Warwick, UUK chief executive, said that income from top-up fees would be "minimal" during the 2005-8 spending review period. "Putting our universities on a sound financial footing can only be achieved by a combination of all the available sources of funding," she said.

UUK said the twenty years of under-investment in universities between 1981 and 2001 had left a huge backlog.

Alan Johnson, the higher education minister, said that the Government had already begun to tackle the funding gap and welcomed UUK's bid which he argued demonstrated the clear need for variable top-up fees.