Queen's University, Belfast, has called on Northern Ireland to seek a contribution from employers towards higher education.
In its response to the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment's consultation on student finance, Queen's says the core of the debate is the Dearing report's "compact", that substantial new funds are needed to ensure continuing quality.
Employers of graduates should contribute as beneficiaries of higher education, alongside graduate contributions and a state subsidy.
Northern Ireland already has fewer mature student applicants than mainland Britain. Queen's and Ulster University are warning that exacerbated mature entrants' loss of benefit entitlements is exacerbating the general fall in student numbers.
They also want to see an overhaul of access funds so that students know in advance what level of support they are entitled to.
The two universities have long campaigned against the cap on student numbers, which forces many students to study on the mainland.
Ulster warns that any change in the province's student support system should not be at the expense of extra student places.
Patrick Murphy, director of the Belfast Institute of Further and and Higher Education, sees the prospect of more funds for students coming through the "peace dividend".
Opinion, page 14.