The National Union of Students is failing to represent the majority of its members by ignoring further education students, say college chiefs and student leaders.
Led by the Association of Colleges, which is preparing a campaign against student financial hardship, college student leaders are beginning to speak out against the union's perceived priorities.
College students represent more than half of the NUS membership and face often greater hardships than their university counterparts, but their voices are not being heard, students say.
Simon Atkinson, student development officer for Brighton College of Technology and a former university student union president, said that college students "don't get a look in" at NUS national events. "They get a poor deal," he said. "When college students go to national conferences, seminars and workshops, a lot of what is discussed is based on universities."
He said that college student leaders were marginalised because they had less time and fewer resources to "network" with other union leaders. Yet their problems were often more pressing.
A spokeswoman for the Association of Colleges said: "We do not think that the NUS is very helpful to the cause of further education students. We have seen massive NUS campaigns on behalf of higher education students. The NUS should protect the interests of college students too."
A spokesman for the NUS acknowledged that historically college students had missed out. "NUS is a federal national union which reflects the concerns of its member constituencies," he said. "Higher education students have been more active in internal democracy."
He said that the NUS was campaigning to help local unions get off the ground, an initiative that would benefit the less established and poorer unions in further education.
"It is unfair for the criticism to come now," he added. "Our priority campaigns on hardship and on developing local unions are both largely further education issues."