Northern Ireland's department for employment and learning has dismissed student claims of an impending admissions crisis, writes Olga Wojtas.
The National Union of Students - Union of Students in Ireland said many school- leavers would have their hopes dashed by the government's failure to provide an adequate number of university places.
Ben Archibald, NUS-USI convenor, said: "Demand is so high for college places that many local students will be forced to leave Northern Ireland to find a course or give up any hope of entering higher education."
The union is calling for an increase of at least 4,000 places to match those available in Scotland.
But a department spokesman said: "Higher education in Northern Ireland is going through a period of expansion. Since 1999, more than 3,000 additional full-time equivalent places have been introduced."
Total additions were set to rise to about 5,600 later in the decade, subject to budgetary considerations, he said.
The union also wants to see a reformed admissions system, which it says would mean A-level students who do better than expected will not be "unfairly penalised" by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Student leaders believe a post-qualification admissions system would be fairer and allow students more time to choose their future study and career options.