The National Union of Students has admitted that its "online revolution" internet deal has made £5 million, rather than the £50 million predicted.
The NUS signed its internet rights for the next 30 years to the company ITM in return for free services.
At its launch in September 2000, NUS president Owain James declared the deal would "reach out to every student in the country". But only 60 out of 704 affiliated student unions signed up.
ITM Activate stated its intention to float its stock, worth £1 billion, on the stock market. The NUS had a 2.5 per cent share, with another 2.5 per cent to follow, meaning an optimistic profit of about £50 million. The stock has fallen, however, leaving that figure more likely to be about £5 million.
Many of the bigger unions have looked elsewhere for a home for their websites. Kathryn Edwards, communications officer at Leeds University, said: "We were offered a better deal elsewhere. As we are quite a big union, we could afford to be a bit more independent."
Luke Pollard, guild president at the University of Exeter, said: "It seems that the NUS is concentrating more on selling to students rather than on supporting them. We're not signed up and we certainly wouldn't want to be under the present deal."
Mr James admitted that work was still needed on the deal. "I'm not saying we haven't made mistakes and I'm not saying there aren't a couple of things that can't be improved in the contract, but there's no pressure on a union to sign up for a deal if they don't want to."
He said the agreement was not made solely for financial reasons.
"If we ever did make any money from it, the student unions would vote on how to spend it. The only payment ITM have made to the NUS so far is to cover staff costs."