Oxford and Cambridge are currently allocated a total of £6.9 million a year for this task, in addition to funding which is available to all universities.

The report showed that some institutions thought that the current ‘institution-specific’ funding system “may be anti-competitive”, whilst others proposed alternative schemes for the money, such as channelling it into the student loan system, letting the markets decide appropriate levels of funding, or widening access.

Under the present scheme, Oxford receives £4.7 million and Cambridge £2.2 million a year, while the remainder of the funds are paid to 17 small-scale specialist colleges, such as music conservatoires. 

The criticism has led to fears that the current allocation could be abolished in future, a move supported by Bahram Bekhradnia, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, who argued in a recent interview with The Times Higher Education Magazine that “tutorial teaching provides no sort of justification” for continued financing, a view that echoed the findings of the HEFCE report which revealed a minority of those bodies questioned which held that the current system is seemingly designed to “maintain the status quo”.

But a spokeswoman from the University of Oxford defended the payments, announcing the university’s intention “to make a case for the continuation of this funding” and highlighting that the fund only “in part contributes to the cost of the tutorial system”.

The same is true for the University of Cambridge, where a recent internal report warned that the cost of individual interviews and the tutorial system “continues to rise” and even predicted that their continuation across the university as a whole may not be sustainable.

Such arguments may not hold much traction with many of the contributors to the HEFCE report, some of whom warned “that that the review should not maintain the status quo” and claimed that the “negative impact on an institution of removal of such funding should not be sufficient justification for its continuation”.

The tutorial system itself was criticised, with one submission claiming “that institutions should not be compensated for characteristics of delivery or organisation which are not cost effective”.

Criticism also focused on a lack of transparency and efficiency in how the funds are allocated are spent, and the large endowments possessed by many of its beneficiaries.

HEFCE is a quango responsible for allocating public funds to higher education providers. Its funding role is likely to be reduced as part of the government’s reform of higher education funding, which includes a greater proportion of funding coming directly from higher tuition fees.