While the activists who came to prominence in Chile's 2011 student uprising are vying for seats in Congress, the new student leaders elected this week vow to take the movement back to the streets if the politicians don't deliver.

The student federations at the country's largest institutions of higher education, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Catolica, chose new presidents this week as several of the movement's charter members prepared for the general elections on Sunday.

The Universidad de Chile organization, known by the acronym FECH, elected Melissa Sepulveda, who becomes only the third woman ever to lead the group.

"We believe the student movement must give content to a now-well-established slogan, that is: public, free and quality education," the self-proclaimed anarchist told Efe.

"What is needed is to talk about who finances education, if that will mean a new form of distribution of wealth or will continue being a mechanism of indebtedness," Sepulveda said.

The Universidad Catolica Student Federation, FEUC, is also to be led by a woman, Naschla Aburman, who likewise called for making free, public education a reality.

In 2011, Chilean college and high school students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times to denounce a system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.

The scale and persistence of the protests turned the leaders into national and - in the case of the charismatic Camila Vallejo - international figures.

Vallejo and colleagues Giorgio Jackson, Francisco Figueroa and Gabriel Boric are now running for seats in Chile's lower house.

The students struggled to "find an (official) interlocutor" in 2011, Jackson, the former FEUC president, told La Tercera newspaper.

"With my candidacy or the participation of the other former leaders there will be greater ease in finding interlocutors, but that does not mean there will be a limit to the autonomy of the student movement," he said.

After a relatively subdued 2012, the student movement mobilized this year in hopes of exerting influence on the presidential and congressional elections.

Students want the elimination of school fees, an end to for-profit universities - technically illegal but able to operate thanks to loopholes - and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many to take on crushing debt.

Chile's current educational regime is a legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Augusto Pinochet, who slashed government support for public schools and encouraged privatization. EFE