Universities and the Scottish Government have struck a deal on working together following concerns over funding levels.
The agreement came as university principals held talks with the education secretary on the budget, which they said would leave them short.
Meanwhile, there were calls for a fresh look at the contribution graduates make towards the cost of higher education.
Ministers said access to education should be based on "ability to learn".
Despite the funding concerns, Sir Muir Russell, convener of higher education body Universities Scotland, left the meeting with Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop in a more optimistic mood.
A joint task force is to look at the future of the university sector in the decades ahead and will meet again in December.
"We formed a very clear impression that she and her colleagues are sympathetic to the sector and to the contribution that it can make and that if additional resources become available we hope that we will be in the front line to have a good claim on them," Sir Muir told BBC Scotland.
University leaders said they had requested a £168m increase in 2007-2008, but received £30m.
The Scottish Government has pledged overall funding of £5.24bn to higher and further education over three years.
Amid competing budget pressures, Sir Muir argued that universities were one of the best ways to contribute to boosting the Scottish economy, adding: "We give really super value in terms of innovation, in terms of skilled people and in terms of the return that all of that makes on the investment on universities."
The issue dominated question time at Holyrood, where Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all attacked First Minister Alex Salmond over university funding.
Mr Salmond said the meeting was "highly constructive", adding: "They had an agreement . . . on how the government and the sector can work together for the future of the sector as we move into the next decade and beyond."
Meanwhile, the man who headed up the 1999 probe which led to the abolition of upfront tuition fees in Scotland, asked if it was "socially just" for those who benefit most from higher education to receive it free.
Dr Andrew Cubie, who chairs the court at Napier University in Edinburgh, stressed he was not calling for a graduate tax.
He told BBC Scotland: "In a society which is still not able to allow those who are in primary and secondary education to reach their full potential, is it socially acceptable that those who have the advantage of getting tertiary education, with all the ensuing benefits, for free?
"I think if you look around the world there are many countries which seek a contribution from graduates in one way or another."