Students at university in Australia face having to pay higher fees and pay back any loans they get faster under new plans being released by ministers.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham believes that universities are richer than they claim to be and as a result funding to them is going to be cut by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The figures are based on a new report from Deloitte Access Economics which says that universities receive adequate funding for most courses that they teach and that their revenue is growing faster than their costs.

It means that cuts in funding of 2% to 3% are likely to be phased in over the next couple of years and students face a rise in fees of up to 20%.

The Deloitte report, based on data from 17 universities, shows the average cost of delivery for universities increased by 9.5% from 2010 to 2015 while revenue grew by 15%. It gives examples, saying that the average annual cost of providing an engineering degree was $22,514 per student in 2015 compared to total funding of $26,623 per student while a clinical psychology degree cost universities an average of $13,528 a year to deliver while attracting $18,711 in total funding.

But it also identifies two clear exceptions with dentistry and veterinary science found to be significantly underfunded and these courses are likely to see increased funding.

However, Universities Australia has questioned that move. It pointed out that the Deloitte report states that its figures 'cannot be compared as direct growth or decline in costs relative to funding over the five years to 2015, given the differences in the sample, and differences in cost collection approaches'.

It also points out that the report only examines the costs of teaching and does not take account of the costs on universities to meet their other legislative obligations to conduct research, maintain buildings and support their local communities.

'As the authors themselves caution, the report cannot be used to compare costs over time. It cannot be used to justify further major cuts to public investment in universities. Base funding to universities needs to do more heavy lifting than ever because of a decline in other sources of funding for university infrastructure and equity programs over the past six years,' said Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson.

She pointed out that universities and students have already contributed $3.9 billion to Budget repair since 2011 and universities have regulatory requirements to maintain surpluses as a buffer against external shocks and to ensure they can maintain their facilities and assets.

'Published surpluses also include funds that are tied to multi-year research and building projects. Remaining funds are reinvested into educating Australians for skilled jobs in our changing economy, doing research that leads to new jobs and industries, and growing Australia's prosperity by sustaining Australia's third largest export, international education, worth $22 billion a year,' Robinson explained.

'It's hard to envisage the Government unveiling severe cuts to public investment in universities which would be at odds with its innovation, jobs, skills and home grown talent agenda,' she added.