University Entrance pass rates are lower for the second year running, following a change that made the standard harder.
Provisional figures put the UE pass rate for 2015 at 61 percent - the same as last year's final figure but well below the high of 71 percent in 2013.
Last year, 3500 fewer school leavers were eligible to go to university than the year before because of the 2014 drop in pass rates, and there are fears of a similar drop this year.
The lower pass rates follows changes after the 2013 exams that made the UE standard harder.
Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said universities would be scrambling to figure out how they could enrol students who just missed out.
"Obviously for university staff that are doing enrolments, this places a huge burden on them in terms of finding out who genuinely can be admitted under special circumstances, because there are enrolment targets people are trying to meet."
Universities New Zealand director Chris Whelan said the results were better than they appeared.
Last year's provisional figure was 58 percent and that rose to 61 percent because of resits and appeals, he said.
"Our pick is it'll probably end up closer to 64 percent by the time we know how those processes have gone. And that's broadly in line with the long-term average, so we're a lot more comfortable with that number than we were with last year's provisional results."
Mr Whelan said that meant universities were looking at hundreds rather than thousands fewer potential students this year.
The new UE standard was better than it was, he said.
"There were too many young people turning up to university just not ready academically for it and there's nothing worse than someone giving up a year of their life and not succeeding. We think the new standards are sending a much better signal of readiness for university."
Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts said there was no problem with UE if it better reflected what was needed for successful tertiary study.
But she said able students should not be missing out because universities did not value the courses they had taken.
"We're concerned that the limitations that the universities are able to put on what we provide to students isn't actually about whether students are capable of succeeding at university, it's just making it easy for universities to profile students."