Brexit will do "terrible damage" to the UK's universities, Sir Vince Cable has warned.
The former business secretary told students 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 who include 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.
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..