The Labour leadership of the National Union of Students will resist proposals outlined by the party-linked Commission on Social Justice for charging students.
Jim Murphy, NUS president, said there was no dilemma in choosing between party and union: "I have been elected by students to promote their interests. I have my own view, but my job is to put forward the view mandated by the NUS conference." He pointed out that the commission report is not party policy.
Mr Murphy said the commission had identified many of the problems of higher education, but he could not accept the solution. NUS advocates "a fairer system of grants" hammered out in discussion with students, academics, political parties and industry.
He said: "We would not go in with pre-written conclusions. But we would set criteria, of which the most important would be the need to make higher education more representative of the population."
A student contribution has well-placed supporters in the Labour party. David Miliband, head of Labour leader Tony Blair's policy team, was commission secretary and has backed contributions in earlier publications.
A contribution was also backed implicitly in the suppressed higher education chapter from last year's Labour green paper on education. Jeff Rooker MP, main author of the suppressed paper, said: "This is in line with the paper I wrote. They have highlighted the inequities in the system and recognised that if we want to address problems of student poverty and access there is only one area we can get the money from."
David Blunkett, appointed last week as shadow education secretary, said: "The report is excellent food for thought and provides material for a vigorous debate in the next 12 months about how we pick up some of these ideas and on the likely policy and political implications."
The commission proposes repayment through National Insurance of loans taken out to meet charges and plans further work on the details of possible schemes.
As the Labour Party considers the commission's report, any plans with spending implications have to pass the scrutiny of newly-appointed shadow chief secretary Andrew Smith, the most spectacular promotion of the new Blair team. Before the 1992 General Election he was higher education spokesman, and architect of the "fairer system of grants" formula.