Capping the number of student admissions is a necessary action amid concerns that the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus could leave some universities with too few applicants to stay financially viable, according to Sheffield Hallam University vice chancellor Sir Chris Husbands.
Mr Husbands said, in a paper for the Higher Education Policy Institute, said emergency student number controls needed to be put in place across universities in the UK.
"Radical action is needed on university admissions for the foreseeable future," he said.
"This means suspending the market in admissions".
"Realistically, given the damage to school students’ education and examination preparation, this will not be a one-year exercise," said Mr Husbands.
Mr Husbands said there were numerous alternative measures that could happen including setting institution by institution limits on admissions, as was the case until 2011.
The aim would be to encourage more stability in an admissions round caught up in the coronavirus outbreak which has closed schools and universities and cancelled exams.
Overseas student numbers are also expected to fall, placing emphasis on funding from UK students as even more important.
In the longer term, Mr Husbands said a fundamental review of the operation of admissions was needed.
"Financial support from government for universities is necessary," said University UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis.
"There would need to be a clear case of the benefits, any proposal would have to be sector-led not imposed, strictly time-limited and carefully crafted to avoid unintended consequences," he said.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, added: "The crisis is fast becoming the catalyst for the return of student number caps."
However Mr Hillman said introducing student number controls could provide "short-term stability," but warned it was at the expense of stopping the expansion of university places and limiting the choices of individual students.