Student unions around the country have agreed to hold an extraordinary national conference on May 30, when a new funding policy is likely to be adopted.
Delegates will debate the results of consultations with branches on replacing full grants with loans or graduate contributions.
NUS officers face a tough task winning over mature students to the idea of change, despite assurances that the union wants education free at the point of entry and that there will be no repayments until earnings reach a certain level.
Campuses have been broadly in favour of the review, with the requisite 25 motions for a national conference passed last week.
But at the University of East London, where 65 per cent of the 12,000 students are mature, there was unanimous opposition.
"As far as I am concerned, I have already paid tax and National Insurance for my education," said Patricia Brook, the first mature student to become a sabbatical officer at UEL. "There is no provision for different payment schemes for people in different circumstances. I have two children. Will my payments be the same as single students with no children?" Law student Jane Wisbey, a single mother, wants the student loan abolished and grants revived. "Otherwise you will find yourself just educating the rich. A lot of students are single parents who have come off state benefit for education, which is their way out. Now this door is being closed."
Paul Cornell, UEL welfare officer, said: "If this question was put in front of ordinary students, most would vote against contributions. Unfortunately it is being put in front of a very select bunch of political hacks."