Students at the University of Sussex have begun moves to break away from the National Union of Students after a close vote at their annual general meeting last week.
The students will now hold a campus-wide referendum on independence from the NUS, which is in the red and losing money due to falling membership fee income after a spate of disaffiliations around the country.
Nick Scott, Sussex students' communications officer, said there was mounting annoyance with the NUS, particularly surrounding president Mandy Telford's close ties with Labour.
"The NUS can't represent all students when so many government policies are clearly detrimental to students," he said.
Mr Scott said many students were put off by the "careerism" of student leaders, who often went on to become high-profile members of political parties whose policies went against students' interests.
And the top-up fees campaign had been "too little too late" in the minds of some Sussex students who were prepared to seek a vote of no confidence in Ms Telford at next spring's annual NUS conference.
"We run our union on a near- skeletal budget, and the £30,000 it costs us to be affiliated to the NUS every year might be better spent on student welfare," Mr Scott said.
"Disaffiliation of Sussex would be a big blow to the NUS. While there are obvious benefits to being part of a national movement, we need a healthy debate about this. At the moment, there is not enough questioning going on."
But a spokesman for the NUS in London said so far every referendum on disaffiliation had failed and the NUS was confident of winning over students in Sussex.