Liberal Democrat and Conservative education spokesmen united in calls this week for a government inquiry into the effect of abolishing maintenance grants and introducing tuition fees.
Both parties plan to table parliamentary questions following publication of figures showing a 1.8 per cent fall in total university applications and a 10 per cent fall for students over 25.
Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat further and higher education spokesman, said that courses could close as a result.
He said the government's attitude to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures "bordered on the absurd" and accused UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins of "complacency".
"Analysis of the figures demonstrates a real crisis. The government must take it seriously. It must have a look at the funding system. It should also look at UCAS to see whether it has outlived its usefulness," he said.
Damian Green, shadow further and higher education spokesman, said the government decision last week to make maintenance loans available to part-time students on low incomes was a panic move.
"We were worried about the introduction of fees at the same time as the abolition of grants," he said. "If the government does want to widen participation then it should launch a serious review of the funding."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said that there were no plans to review student funding. But she said that the government was monitoring applications.
Blackstone letter, page 15