The National Union of Students says its further education activities are restricted by a lack of facilities as colleges fail to provide the kind of support that is available in universities.
The NUS has carried out a national survey of college financial support which, it says, suggests a modest increase in funding would make a "big difference".
NUS vice-president for further education Ellie Russell, who was president of Hayward's Heath college students' union in Sussex last year, said she was not surprised by the findings. "We've all heard the anecdotes about students' unions without offices or even a telephone or presidents handpicked by college management.
"This survey gives us cold, hard facts that we can now present to the people holding the purse strings of the FE sector, the colleges themselves and, more importantly, the Government."
The survey found college students' union branches generally receive a grant worth 0.02 per cent of a typical college budget - about pound;5,000 - and 19 per cent of colleges give no block grant at all.
It also showed that, while 88 per cent of student unions are supported by a staffstudent liaison officer, 23 per cent of these receive only two hours of the staff member's time, or less, per week. And 17 per cent of colleges have no students' union office.
The development survey will underpin this year's NUS Further Education campaign, called "Loud and Clear", which aims to fight for more funding and representation. The NUS will also continue lobbying on curriculum reform and has been supporting the Association of Colleges' campaign for more funding for FE.