Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, was today expected to call on college staff to force candidates at the next general election to back a comprehensive, "no limits" offer of lifelong learning.
She was due to tell the union's annual congress that while Parliament was mired in internal problems as a result of the expenses scandal, urgent action was needed in education to mitigate the effects of recession.
"Charging for education in a recession is nothing more than the rationing of hope," she was expected to say.
"In many constituencies across the country, the single most decisive factor could be the votes of lecturers and their students.
"So today we are calling for a new deal for education, because what we need now is more teachers, not less.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to learn, whether through necessity or response to changing circumstance."
The union is calling for genuine lifelong learning opportunities for all, a universal right to higher education based on ability to learn, not to pay, and real investment in education during the recession.
"Let me make it clear: we are serious about bringing the power of our union to bear on the political process," she said. "We have to build support and gain influence if we want to offer a credible opposition to employers."
Ms Hunt said the union would not let up in its campaign to ensure the "IOU colleges" finally fulfilled a five-year-old lecturers' pay deal, and referred to campaigns against redundancies at Doncaster College and City College Birmingham.
She said the union had already had some successes: a 350-strong delegation lobbied the Welsh Assembly and secured an extra Pounds 9 million for FE. "Winning arguments, applying pressure, building support," she said.
Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the union, said almost every MP had a college or adult education centre in their constituency.
These were likely to be hit over the summer by a wave of redundancies, with the union having been notified already of more than 500 planned job losses, he said.
"Further education is very well-supported at a local level. People really do see the great benefit it brings to their area. But colleges and the FE system are being asked to deliver the same services with fewer resources.
"I think MPs should be very worried that their local colleges, all over the country, may be forced to make job cuts," he said.