The number of full-time students at university could drop by nearly 100,000 over the next five years, it was suggested today.
Chris Morecroft, president-elect of the Association of Colleges (AoC), predicted full-time undergraduate places available could fall by a fifth in the future.
Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum conference on the future of higher education in London today, he said: "My prediction, and this is a wild prediction, is that there will be 20 per cent less undergraduate full-time places in five years' time but there will be many, many more part-time higher education places."
Some 481,000 students were admitted to universities and colleges last year, according to Ucas figures.
A 20 per cent drop based on this figure would mean 96,000 fewer places.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Morecroft, who is also principal of Worcester College of Technology, said: "The reason for this is there is no more money, there's less money."
At the same time, more people want to go into higher education, he said, and the cost of funding one full-time undergraduate place could fund three part-time places.
"It's saying, if you want more people to participate in higher education, it is going to be at the cost of full-time undergraduate places, unless the Government finds some more money from somewhere."
According to Ucas figures, as of the end of May there had been 640,760 applications, a rise of 77,758 (13.8%) on last year.
The record rise in applications is placing universities, who are facing swingeing multimillion-pound Government cuts, under increasing pressure.
It was announced last month that the sector must save £200 million this year, on top of savings totalling around £1 billion over the next few years.
The Government has pledged to create 10,000 extra places for this autumn - the majority of which will go to science and maths-based courses.