Student representatives have been told not to campaign against tuition fee increases in a private memo from the National Union of Students.
A leaked document suggests campus leaders should instead hold talks with universities that plan to charge the top rate of £9,000.
Publicly the union has opposed increases in tuition fees, and NUS president Aaron Porter has criticised the changes.
But the five-page memo to NUS officers on campuses said: “The loan gets written off after 30 years – the vastly increased numbers of graduates that will never pay the loan off are in fact what makes the system relatively progressive.”
The memo was passed to The Times by a student at the University of Exeter. A source at the NUS said: “This is not a change in direction. We are saying we live in the real world.”