Universities face a “perfect storm” that could lead to “real problems,” said a former university vice-chancellor and higher education consultant.
Sir Deian Hopkin has said the number of international students will drop due to the coronavirus and Brexit.
Domestic students will also be reluctant to participate during the pandemic, he said.
Welsh universities have said the institutions have proven they can cope.
Surveys have suggested that the number of international students taking places at UK universities could drop by more than 50%, while other research claimed that domestic enrollments could drop by 15%.
In Wales such a reduction in the number of international students could lead to a loss of around £ 60million in tuition fees.
The Universities of Wales, which represent the Welsh institutions, have recognized that ‘times are tough for universities’ but said they have proven their management skills.
Sir Deian, who was Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University for eight years, said: “The number of students coming from abroad is now likely to drop considerably and yet universities are so dependent on international students for their research and their support facilities.
At the same time, there are doubts that UK students may be reluctant to borrow £ 9,000 a year to have much of their courses online and none of the facilities they expect to find. at University. “
He said universities have borrowed money in anticipation of growth, but new facilities may end up not being used.
The National Union of Students (NUS) echoed his concerns, saying there were concerns that the current situation would mean that students “will not have the same student experience” with many courses in the world. line.
Due to the current financial support during the pandemic and the costs of the last academic year, the real ‘crisis’ could strike next year, Sir Deian said.
But Becky Ricketts, president of NUS Wales, said the pandemic also offered a chance to develop.
“This is an opportunity for higher education to really look at what we can do in 2020 and the future, to make sure that students access education in a way that is right for them, but also to a way that supports our institutions.
She encouraged future students to talk to universities as much as possible.
“If you haven’t already, start this dialogue with your university, start this dialogue with your student unions because they are all there to help you make the right decision for you. ”
Research from the Institute For Fiscal Studies suggested Welsh universities could lose around £ 3,800 per student due to the coronavirus – a lower sum than England (£ 4,700) and Scotland (£ 4,500).
But research also indicates they are not as well positioned to deal with losses, with net assets of £ 11,000 per student. Scottish universities have an average net assets of £ 20,100, while universities in England have an average of £ 18,900.
Last month, however, data released by the Ucas admissions service showed a record number of 18-year-olds in the UK have applied to study at UK universities.
Universities face serious problems
What remains uncertain is whether students will defer their requests, especially if there is a second peak in the pandemic as the chief medical officer has warned.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Authority, a university with less than 5% net cash flow could face serious problems due to the current climate.
Three Welsh institutions fall into this category: Aberystwyth University, Swansea University and Trinity Saint David University of Wales.
The Welsh government said it was “aware of the challenges” and provided £ 31 million to support higher education.
“We are working with our universities to promote them at home and abroad and have published guidance to help the safe return of students in the fall,” said a spokesperson.