The split among student unions on reform of student financial support widened this week as a group of "moderate" unions spoke of setting up their own consortium to push for reform.
Alison Griffin, president of Birmingham University's student guild, said: "It is inevitable that like-minded unions are going to band together. In the West Midlands alone there are a number of universities very unhappy with the line taken at Derby last week, who are seeking ways of promoting their own views."
A number of moderate unions are also planning to make their own submssion to the Department for Education's review of student financial support.
At a special National Union of Students conference last week attempts by president Jim Murphy to change the NUS line on financial support left him with a fresh commitment to full grants and a call for demonstrations and occupations.
The NUS is also facing the prospect of a number of moderate unions disaffiliating as a result of the Derby conference. Durham student union discussed a motion to disaffiliate yesterday. Richard Taylor, student union president, said: "We canvassed the views of 2,500 students and won support for some form of student contribution to maintenance. We are now faced with paying Pounds 14,000 to the NUS, whose main political view is diametrically opposed to that of our students."
Dave Ryan, student union general secretary at Warwick, which is seen as one of the universities most likely to introduce tuition fees, said that the union would be collaborating with other universities to "establish a middle ground".
He argues that if unions concede a student contribution to maintenance costs, they will be in a stronger position to fight tuition fees.
But other unions vowed to continue their campaign for free education. A survey of students at Lancaster University found that two-thirds of students said that the state should continue to fund maintenance costs, and 93 per cent said the state should fund tuition costs. Kate Buckell, general secretary of the student union, said: "NUS must realise that it is not their job to argue the views of a particular parliamentary party but to fight for the needs of its membership. That means taking up the fight for free education and winning something for students."
The Derby decision has also left NUS Scotland out on a limb. University student unions there have already voted to pursue reform. Douglas Traynor, NUS Scottish president, said: "The only thing the Scottish student unions have ruled out is tuition fees - otherwise we have no fear of discussing a student contribution."