A lecturers' union is warning that universities with no cash in the bank may be forced to cut costs or close faculties.
The Browne Review, which was welcomed by Government last week, has called for universities to be less reliant on state funding and able to charge what they want rather than having their fees capped.
The comprehensive spending review is expected to contain cuts to their teaching budgets of 3bn – meaning institutions would need to raise their fees from the current level of 3,290 to around 7,000 in order to generate the same income.
The review expected to withdraw state funding for university teaching of subjects other than medicine, science, maths, engineering and technology and it also emerged that university research budgets could lose 1bn.
This figure was revealed in a leaked email from the head of a group representing Britain's universities to vice chancellors. across the country. Steve Smith, the president of Universities UK, said predictions were getting "worse and worse".
It is not yet known how much time they will be given to become reliant on raising money through fees.
Paul Cottrell, the head of public policy at the University and College Union, said: "Elite universities who are confident that they will be able to charge higher fees and fill their places will be in a strong position but we will see universities need to restructure if they feel they have courses or departments which will not attract students with the higher fees.
"We fear there could be a programme of cost-cutting at universities which do not have the reserves to cope.
"Degrees which do not necessarily give students a direct route into employment could be most at risk such as humanities, English and fine arts."
A leading figure at a Yorkshire university, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: "The review is expected to protect teaching funding for maths, medical and scientific teaching but we will lose all our funding for everything else – degrees which are taught in the classroom or the workshop.
"We will need to be given time to adjust but I think most universities will have to shrink in the short term."