Universities demand an extra pounds 1bn

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UNIVERSITIES will tomorrow step up their demands for extra funding, insisting that higher education provision should increase by almost a quarter.

Vice-chancellors say budgets must increase by nearly pounds 1bn a year to modernise equipment and meet Tony Blair's targets for increasing student numbers. Higher education funding is currently nearing pounds 4bn a year.

The demand comes as the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which represents universities, lobbies MPs in support of a Bill introducing pounds 1,000-a-year student tuition fees as it returns to the Commons for its second reading tomorrow.

The CVCP's submission to the spending review, due out tomorrow, argues that universities need a full pounds 815m next year, rising to pounds 880m in 2000 and pounds 950m in 2001, exceeding the injection of funds recommended by Sir Ron Dearing and far outstripping projected income from fees.

University lecturers also will make their own plea for an injection into higher education after next week's budget.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the CVCP, said: "If we are to protect the quality of higher education we need extra resources. The new money realised from student tuition fees should stay in higher education. It would be extremely damaging if they did not see the benefit. But fees alone cannot solve our funding crisis over the period covered by the comprehensive spending review."

Vice-chancellors want an extra pounds 320m a year to end cuts in university teaching budgets, which have seen levels of cash per student fall by 35 per cent over eight years. But they are also asking for pounds 320m a year to pay for improvements in equipment and buildings and pounds 110m a year to secure research projects.

Further money is needed to pay for a projected 70,000 increase in student numbers to help to meet the Prime Minister's target of an extra 500,000 further and higher education students by 2002.

The academics are warning of a slow decline in university equipment and commercial research funding, and increasing student unease at the quality of an education that they will be buying with hard cash if the representations are unsuccessful.

Tuition fees are expected to bring in pounds 150m this year, rising to pounds 250m in 1999 and pounds 400m in 2000, falling far short of universities' demands, the vice-chancellors say.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has promised that the money will be earmarked for both further and higher education, raising the prospect that at least some of the income may be ploughed into FE colleges.

Ms Warwick denied that universities were entering into competition with their colleagues in FE colleges over the additional funding. But the Association of Colleges, which represents the further education sector, has meanwhile issued its own call for substantial financial help, amounting to around pounds 875m over three years. Sue Dutton, the association's acting chief executive, said: "We would not welcome the asset-stripping of higher education, but would argue that we have a stronger case for additional support."

Universities hope that unease over fees legislation will aid their case, arguing that university fees are better justified if they are a direct contribution to teaching. The Teaching and Higher Education Bill is likely to have a rocky ride in the Commons after peers inflicted significant defeats on the Government earlier this month. Left-wingers have threatened to rebel over the plans to abolish student grants and impose a system of fees and loans.