The vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University tells Channel 4 News his decision to cull some 70 per cent of courses will offer better value for students.
The vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University has defended "painful, but necessary cuts" that will see the institution slash the number of courses it offers by 70 per cent.
Professor Malcolm Gillies said the decision had been made after one of the most comprehensive reviews ever carried out by a British universities.
He acknowledged the cuts would lead to job losses but said the university had to be "realistic" as academic institutions seek to remain competitive in the age of tuition fees.
London Met has suffered financial difficulties in recent years and was forced to repay £36.5m to the Higher Education Funding Council for England in 2009 after it was found to have made false claims for student funding.
We think this is an elitist agenda to cut working class higher education. Cliff Snaith
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency in September last year, London Metropolitan had the greatest proportion of working-class students of any UK university last year - 57.2 per cent, compared to a national average of 32.3 per cent.
The university says it does not know how many academic posts will be culled in the reorganisation and details of which courses will be cut have not yet been finalised.
But union leaders say humanities such as history and performing arts would suffer the most.
Cliff Snaith, the secretary of the University and College Union's London Met branch, said: "The specific intention is to deprive essentially working class, ethnic minority students of the opportunity to study any non-vocational course.
"This is basically the Vice Chancellor... saying that students at London Met do not deserve history. We think this is an elitist agenda to cut working class higher education."
We will be among the most affordable universities, and I think that is socially responsible. Malcolm Gillies
Professor Gillies told Channel 4 News: "I don't understand that at all. In 2012 our average fee will be £6,850, which is one of the lowest in London. I would have thought that would give access to people of all backgrounds.
"We will be among the most affordable universities, and I think that is socially responsible. I was completely confused by the social analysis of Dr Snaith."
He added: "At the moment we have in some form or another 577 active courses and around 200 inactive ones. We need to clean all of that up and give better value.
"After all, we find that 80 per cent of our students are studying on only 80 courses."
"I would say to prospective students that there are now 160 re-thought, vital programmes here you can choose from. We are offering a really good, lean, good-value proposition, and I think students will buy that.
The university says it wants courses to be more "tightly organized", with year-long modules of 30 weeks of teaching from next year.
Students will be expected to study four modules worth 30 credits every year and will receive a "minimum" of 60 teaching hours per module.
Professor Gillies said universities were "being forced to think of themselves in a business-like way" in the light of Government reforms to the way they are funded.
"We are being realistic. We have to recognise what kind of university we are: close to central London, where there are further education colleges and many private providers. We have to take all these price points into account."
He went on: "There is pain, because there are people who have done a good job and offered excellent courses, but for some reason or another the demand is not there.
"I do really feel for them. It is very hard and I appreciate that the unions do have to represent their members. There will be pain but it will be necessary."
Under the Government's reforms to higher education funding, almost all state funding for degrees has been cut andinstitutions can charge students up to £9000, almost three times the current maximum fees of £3,290.