Almost 700 Oxford academics have signed an open letter to the government to express their “dismay and alarm” at the haste at which reforms are being introduced into the UK’s higher education system.

The letter, addressed to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and David Willetts, the Universities Minister, comes just a week after the Coalition announced that a White Paper outlining how the new system would operate was being delayed until later this year. 

Despite this, universities are required to set outline tuition fee levels for 2012, when the new funding regime comes into force. 

“We note with dismay and alarm that universities are being forced to take major decisions, with unknown consequences, to a breakneck timetable,” said the letter. 

“We are being asked to ‘fly blind’ over matters of the utmost importance in respect to our ability to continue to deliver world-class education and research.” The letter notes that the proposed system will produce “random” outcomes, and as such a full investigation should be held into the impact the policy will have.

The letter called for an inquiry into the current situation.  It said, “We believe that a public commission of inquiry, properly and fully consultative, charged with the responsibility of examining these issues, is urgently required and ask you to set in motion such an inquiry.” The letter, published earlier this week, coincided with Willett’s planned visit to Cambridge.