The Soviet Union, in one of the most radical steps yet toward demilitarizing society, has ended the practice of drafting college students into the army before they complete their education.

The end of the college draft, a system hated by students, was announced Thursday in a series of commentaries in Soviet newspapers and followed boycotts of compulsory military education classes in several cities last month.The end of the despised practice came about six weeks after Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan and fits in with President Mikhail Gorbachev's announcement in December to cut the size of the military by 500,000 soldiers - 12 percent of the armed forces. To meet the cuts, the Kremlin is planning to scale back the national military draft by 25 percent.

Each year, the Soviet Union has drafted 2 million men over the age of 18 into the armed forces. A mainly conscript army, only about 1 million of the 5 million-strong military are professional soldiers.

Since last year, Soviet generals have engaged in a debate on the feasibility of a volunteer army, but the current thinking garnered from debates on morning radio shows is that such a small professional force would be too expensive.