No Labour candidate is to stand for election as president of the National Union of Students for the first time since the party started to put up candidates 18 years ago.
Andrew Pakes, the current NUS president, a Labour candidate when he won his first term by only 15 votes, said: "We are in the mid-term of a Labour government and it will be difficult for a Labour candidate to win. It is a choice between fighting to win the presidency, which takes up a lot of resources and time, or getting into gear for the general election."
He said he hoped the move would help free the NUS from in-fighting among political factions.
Mr Pakes, who will become director of the leftwing think-tank New Times Network when he leaves the NUS, said "the gloves would be off" in working for reform in his remaining three months of office.
One of his proposals is to introduce individual NUS membership, alongside the present system of institutional membership.
Hoping to succeed him in April are: Alison Angus, from the leftwing group United for Free Education; Owain James, an independent; and Mark Tweedale, "genuine" independent.
Ben Monks, president of NUS Wales, who was to have been the Labour candidate, will run for national secretary instead, against Helen Rogers, United for Free Education, and Brookes Duke, of the National Black Students' Alliance.
Labour's domination of the NUS leadership has lasted since the election of Neil Stewart, now a conference organiser.
The party's decision not to run for the presidency follows a recent increase in action from far-left student groups against tuition fees.
Protesters have been encouraged by the Cubie report, which criticised present fee arrangements in Scotland. Students want his recommendations to be implemented both north and south of the border.
Campaigning has also intensified in the run-up to this weekend when the final instalment of fees is due. Estimates earlier this month put the amount of money outstanding from students at Pounds 3.5 million.
In the past three weeks students have staged occupations at the School of Oriental and African Studies and University College London in protest at tuition fees and threats of suspension against students who have failed to pay them. Occupations have also been threatened at Goldsmiths College London and the University of Sussex.
Last month, Oxford University suspended 14 students for failing to pay their tuition fees. Oxford's free education campaign has called a "national demo for grants not fees" this Sunday.
Organisers of the campaign said: "The recent Cubie report shows that university access is being impeded and that the current government policy is wrong."
An NUS spokesman said: "We have a genuine concern for people who cannot afford to pay and we will support direct action where it is done constitutionally."
But he said the union was unable to support recent action by individual unions based on the principle of "won't pay".
The NUS is organising a lobby of Parliament on March 3.