Hundreds of thousands more university places will be needed by 2030 in order to keep up with demand for degrees, according to a study.
New research suggests that a boom in the number of young people, combined with a continuing increase in the numbers of students going into higher education indicates that at least 300,000 more places will be needed at English universities.
The study, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) warns that if demand continues to rise, this will put more pressure on the public purse, and a cap on student numbers may need to be reintroduced.
Findings show that between 2010 and 2016 there was a 5.5% increase in undergraduate numbers despite a decline in the number of 18-year-olds.
This decline in the population is due to halt next year, and over the next decade, the 18-year-old population in England is set to rise by nearly 23%. If this was the only factor, demand for degree courses would rise by around 50,000 places by 2030, the study says.
Yet at the same time, the participation rate – the numbers of young people aged 20 and under going into higher education – has increased by nearly 25% since 2006.
The study calculates that if participation also increases over the next 12 years at the same rate as the average of the last 15 years, then there could be an overall rise in demand of 350,000 full-time places by 2030.
It does say that the main factor that could have a negative impact on demand is Brexit, which, unless arrangements are made that will maintain demand from EU students, could mean that numbers reduce by around 56,000.
This means that the most likely outcome is that by 2030, a net increase of around 300,000 full-time places will be needed.
Bahram Bekhradnia, one of the authors and HEPI president, said as nearly every new student required a government-subsidised loan, "it is difficult to see - under the current finance model - how the policy of uncapped student recruitment can continue".
"This is particularly pertinent given the constraints on public expenditure and the absence of any suggestion from the Treasury that more money will be available for higher education in the future," he added.