The surge in college applications this year means that "far too many" students may not get their desired course, and those that do face overstretched teaching resources, lecturers have warned.
New data shows that applications surged by 9%, to 84,000, this year, said Frank Jones, the incoming general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT).
"This is not a post-Covid blip," Mr Jones told the union's virtual annual delegate conference this Saturday.
A report commissioned in 2018, by the Department of Education, projected growth of 25% in demand for third-level places between 2019 and 2029.
"That is the equivalent of one and a half University College Dublins being added to the system, without new lecturing staff, without added funding, and without any sign of a plan," he said.
The university sector requires an immediate budget priority to reverse the period of "gross underfunding by the Exchequer that has brought the university system to its knees", Mr Jones said.
He also called for an emergency plan to recruit lecturers, and for a halt to precarious, part-time employment in higher education.
There is also a need for a forum of employers, their organisations, and the trade unions operating with the university sector to address sectoral importance and relevance.
"This is in no way to undermine the university autonomy that IFUT holds in such high esteem, but we do need a centralised negotiating body to ensure a uniform approach across the university sector," Mr Jones said.
Meanwhile, Simon Harris, further and higher education minister, reiterated his commitment to a return to in-person learning for college students and staff this September.
"Education is about more than pure lectures or classes. It's certainly about more than looking down a Zoom camera," Mr Harris said, addressing the conference in a pre-recorded video.
"It's about interactions, it's about face-to-face discussions, it's about the development of a person, all of the person, and we all need to work together over the coming weeks to chart a way forward."
"We need to get back to campus," Mr Harris said, adding that while safety is paramount, there is a "shared desire" to move to a better place.