Student leaders have accused the government of "dragging its heels" over financial aid for poorer students.
Queen's University Students' Union said applications for its Student Hardship Fund have risen four-fold in the last year from 70 to 270.
But funding from the government for the scheme has been slashed.
Queen's Union Vice President Adam McGibbon said the cuts could not come at a worse time for students.
Last year the Department of Finance promised to set aside money for hardship funds at Northern Ireland's four main universities from cash it saved from the ending of a rates relief scheme for students.
But that money has not been forthcoming and the department now said it does not know how much extra money it can divert to student support.
Mr McGibbon said the university is not asking for extra funding, just they money it was promised.
He added: "We're expecting the money because the rates release scheme was due to be closed and the money transferred from the DFP (Department of Finance and Personnel) to the DEL (Department of Education and Learning).
"But that money hasn't materialised and we are being asked to do more with less money. The most vulnerable students in society are suffering."
Hardship funds are made available to students who are struggling to cope with rent payments and living expenses while at college.
Phil McCaugherty received £1000 in support last year from Queen's University.
He said: "I was in second year and I was in hospital for a few weeks with a broken arm. I missed time at work and couldn't pay rent so I applied to the hardship fund for help.
"I don't think enough students have access to the fund. A lot of people don't even know that it is there."