Turkish Cypriot universities face a 75 per cent drop in undergraduate admissions this October unless the Turkish Higher Education Board (Yok) rescinds a ruling that removes the special status granted to the region's universities.
Erbil Akbil, the Education Minister, is trying to have the decision overturned. He described the change as a "death notice to Turkish Cypriot universities, one that will lead to the destruction of our economy".
Students from mainland Turkey make up 90 per cent of each year's intake at Northern Cyprus' six universities because those who achieve only a minimal score in their end-of-school exams and fail to win a place at the Turkish university of their choice can apply directly to one in Northern Cyprus.
Yok wants the applications to universities in Northern Cyprus should be processed centrally along with those to Turkish ones.
Halil Nadiri, vice-rector of the Eastern Mediterranean University in Gazimagusa, argued that the timing of the ruling would have a negative impact because teaching staff for this academic year had been appointed based on last year's student numbers.
"In the long term, we will have to work hard to try to find new markets," Mr Nadiri said.
A sudden fall in student numbers could deprive Northern Cyprus of up to Pounds 25 million a year. The unrecognised republic is prohibited by international sanctions from trading with any country other than Turkey.
But critics of the existing system argue that the quality of higher education in the region is poor and that the changes could raise academic standards. "In principle this is not such a bad idea," said a former physics lecturer at EMU.