Brexit will do "terrible damage" to the UK's universities, former Twickenham MP Sir Vince Cable has warned.
Sir Vince warned learners at Glasgow University that their generation would be "blighted by the consequences of Brexit" which would put funding and schemes such as Erasmus at risk.
He was speaking at hustings for the post of rector of the university on Thursday evening.
He is among 10 nominees, including human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar and two controversial figures - right-wing journalist Milo Yiannopoulos and Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson, neither of whom attended.
Whoever is chosen as rector will take over from US whistleblower Edward Snowden who is coming to the end of his three-year tenure.
Sir Vince, an alumnus of the university, said that he would be a strong voice for students amidst the uncertainty of Brexit.
He said: "Brexit, if it happens, will do terrible damage to universities.
"Your generation are effectively going to be blighted by the consequences of Brexit. Universities are going to be damaged seriously by Brexit.
"In Scotland 15-20% of staff are from the EU and there are a substantial number of EU students. Now their future is uncertain."
He added: "I think the biggest challenge you will face is that the era of university expansion may be coming to an end. The Brexit phenomenon may send universities into a downward spiral.
"There will potentially be enormous financial pressure here. The role of the rector is that when the battle of resources comes, the interests of the students are at the fore.
"I see my job as standing up for the students in what will be a difficult environment for universities."
He also pledged that as rector he would address issues such as student mental health, gender equality and student space.
Mr Anwar told students he would be there to "fight their corner" in areas including support for EU students, rent control for the West End of Glasgow and mental health.
He said: "Justice is not handed to you on a plate. You've always had to fight for freedom. In me you will get a rector who will fight for you and the university."
Prof Peterson has been criticised for a supposed refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns when addressing trans people.
He was represented by a spokesman at the hustings, who said that voting for the professor would be "a symbolic vote for a candidate that represents free speech and free expression".
A small group of student activists held a protest against Yiannopoulos before the event.
The former Breitbart News editor, who describes himself on Facebook as "the most fabulous supervillain on the internet", has been criticised for his involvement in a series of offensive and controversial incidents.
He sent his apologies that he could not attend the hustings event and said that he would take part in a question and answer session at a later date.
The other nominees were Brace Belden, a member of the Kurdish militia fighting Isis, Lady Hazel Cosgrove, the first woman to be appointed a judge of the Court of Session in Scotland and recent former students Thomas Hind, Jonathan Tease, John Lindberg and Duncan Logie.
Dr Leif Azzopardi of Strathclyde University and recent former student Graeme Eddolls were also nominated but withdrew.
The election will be conducted electronically under the single transferable vote system on March 20 and 21.
The next rector will be announced on March 31 and the installation ceremony will take place at a later date.