World renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking has spoken of his fears that a gifted academic with a condition as serious as his own would not be able to flourish in today's tough economic times.

The Theory Of Everything author expressed the concerns at an event to celebrate his 50th year as a fellow at the University of Cambridge's Gonville and Caius College.

He praised the college for supporting him throughout the progression of his motor neuron disease, allowing him to focus on his ground-breaking work.

But speaking before an invited audience at the college he added:

I wonder whether a young ambitious academic, with my kind of severe condition now, would find the same generosity and support in much of higher education. Even with the best goodwill, would the money still be there? I fear not.

Professor Stephen Hawking

Although Professor Hawking did not elaborate on his comments, he has previously raised concerns about cuts to Government funding for research budgets.

Seven years ago he warned £80 million of grant cuts threatened Britain's international standing in the scientific community, calling the grants "the lifeblood of our research effort".

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing Professor Stephen Hawking. Credit: Ian West/PA Wire

Referring to an incident which will be familiar to fans of last year's hit film about the physicist's life, he told how the college chartered a plane to fly him back to the UK after he became ill in Switzerland in the 1980s.

Doctors asked his wife, Jane, whether life support should be terminated.

"I was then in Addenbrookes Hospital for quite a time, unable to speak or hold anything," he said.

"During that time my students participated in a rota to keep my mind occupied by reading to me, I was even able to laugh at the funny bits."

Professor Hawking also explained how part of the college's West Road site had been adapted to house him and his family - this was where he went on to write his first book, A Brief History of Time.

"Caius gave me a home, literally and figuratively, and is a constant thread running through my life," he said.