The new Conservative - Liberal Democrat government slashed the number of university places available this year by 10,000, cutting the higher education budget by £200 million.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "The Government should stop pretending that 'we're all in this together'. Today it dashed the hopes of thousands of people by halving the number of additional student places at universities this year."
She added: "Students and their families must wonder what they have done to be treated so badly by this coalition Government. First the Lib Dems renege on their flagship policy to fight against fees and now the opportunity of a university education is being restricted.
"Our competitor countries are increasing the number of graduates to compete in a high-skill knowledge economy. We are denying thousands a place at university and increasing the burden on our benefits system."
President of Universities UK - the organization representing Vice-Chancellors - Professor Steve Smith warned that these cuts would be hard to maintain the quality of the student experience.
He said: "Universities are already dealing with the impact of over £1 billion of cuts announced by the previous government since last December. A further £200 million of in-year cuts will make the task of meeting student demand this summer, and not compromising on the quality of the student experience, even harder.”