Universities will have to offer fewer places if cuts in tuition fees are not replaced by government money, say leading research universities. A funding review of post 18 study is expected to be published next month.
The Russell Group, and seven charities, want ministers to rule out an overall drop in funding. The government says job prospects and drop out rates are as important as fair access.
An independent panel, led by Philip Augar, has been asked to look at whether the current system offers value for money for students and taxpayers in England.
Tuition fees are now the main source of funding for universities. Universities receive £9,250 a year per student, up front - to meet teaching costs.
The Russell Group of research focused universities argues that some courses will close if tuition fees are cut, and not replaced with taxpayer funding.
Colin Bailey, the Principal of Queen Mary University in London, says they break even overall on the cost of teaching home students under the current system, but if tuition fees were reduced that would change.
Universities already receive top up cash from the government for courses that are very expensive to teach, such as engineering and medicine. That is likely to continue whatever the panel recommends. They are worried about potential tuition fee reductions in subjects such as English, history or languages, which might not attract a government top up.
In a statement backed by seven charities that help low income students into university, the Russell Group says a reduction in places could lead to fewer students from poorer backgrounds getting places.