A discussion paper on the future funding of student support, launched this week by the National Union of Students, is heavily influenced by emerging Labour Party policy, student leaders claim.
Funding Our Future, which explores ten options for funding student maintenance and course fees in post-compulsory education, marks a sharp departure from the NUS's traditional stance that student contributions are out of the question. The union has said it wants an open debate on funding, carefully examining the strengths and weaknesses of each option, including top-up fees and graduate taxes.
Some student leaders now fear that the document is designed to attract support for schemes favoured by the Labour Party's education team, which is conducting its own review of further and higher education funding.
They have pointed out that ratings assigned by NUS to each of the options against five objectives - alleviating hardship; improving access to education; bridging inequalities between further and higher education; funding equitably full and part-time study; and enhancing education quality - favour schemes which would fit in with Labour's embryonic ideas.
Maintaining the status quo and introducing top-up fees, both ruled out by Labour, receive a decided thumbs-down but proposals for more flexible student loans with repayments based on income (known as a Maintenance Income Contingent Loan) - very much in line with Labour thinking - are awarded four "goods" and one "fair".
Activists with close links to the Labour Party claim this is more than mere coincidence. Ghassan Karian, a Labour councillor and incoming president of the University of London Union, said the NUS paper had been influenced by ideas in a paper published by ULU two weeks ago which he helped to write.
The ULU paper, A Future for Student Funding, strongly supports the idea of a Maintenance Income Contingent Loan.
"The document we have produced is basically in line with Labour's ideas for lifelong learning supported by a learning bank. But it is also based on the need to get these ideas accepted at national union level. We cannot have it seen as being too close to the Labour Party position, or it might not be accepted by various factions with the national union," said Mr Karian.
Madelaine Durie, president of Nottingham University student union, which supported a motion at NUS annual conference calling for the discussion paper, said: "There are concerns that we are being pushed towards a Labour-preferred option."
Jim Murphy, NUS president, said he hoped the union's review would influence Labour Party thinking rather than the other way around.