Ireland's universities and technical institutes face a 25 per cent drop in the number of school-leavers over the next 15 years, an expert has said.
Don Thornhill, chairman of the Higher Education Authority, said the drop would lead to increased competition between universities and institutes of technology.
Full-time student numbers in higher education have doubled since 1987-88 to just under 120,000.
A slight increase over the next few years is predicted, but the projections are based in part on the assumption that there will be a huge rise in mature students.
Dr Thornhill said the number of mature students was estimated to rise to 10,000 over the next decade. But other sources say there is little evidence of increasing demand by mature applicants.
Sean McDonagh, director of the government's Skills Initiative Unit, said that the institutes of technology would have difficulties in meeting future skill requirements. The institutes have high non-completion rates, and underperformance in leaving-certificate mathematics is another concern.