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No retreat by universities on top-up cash

The universities have hit back hard at suggestions there is little substance behind their case for an extra pound;100 million to combat the income English universities will receive from top-up fees.

Government sources have suggested to The TES Scotland that this may be "a self-defeating strategy" and that it is based on "assertion rather than argument".

It has also emerged that one university principal acknowledges that the figure lacks authority and that it was rounded up to pound;102 million "to make it look less suspicious". This is in line with the view from further education colleges that cash demands now are premature .

But a spokesperson for Universities Scotland said that, while the figure "is not a scientific answer to all our requirements", it is based on a comprehensive assessment of what was spent on higher education when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 and on spending in comparable countries.

These criteria showed that spending in 2005-06 would have to rise by pound;116 million to maintain the 1999 position, and that average HE spending in a "peer group" of 13 western European countries pointed to a funding gap with Scotland of pound;169 million next year.

Universities Scotland says it needs the extra money to investing in property, modernise pay, beat off international competition and contribute to economic prosperity.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has hinted strongly that more money for student and university support may be available. Budget decisions for the next three years will be announced in September.

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