There is confusion over the future of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union at the University of Abertay Dundee following a ballot in which members voted to join the Association of University Teachers.
David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, stressed that the AUT had adhered scrupulously to Trades Union Congress rules, and had taken no steps to recruit members from elsewhere.
But he added that it was "a very signal honour" for any union to find that a significant group wanted to join it.
The AUT plans to discuss the vote this month with MSF, after Mr Triesman told the winter council of the AUT that there would have to be full and proper discussions with MSF. But he said: "All the indications are that there is a group of people who will be entitled to form a local association."
The council passed a motion pledging to follow TUC principles in considering applications, but approving the formation of a local AUT branch if 20 or more eligible staff became AUT members.
The TUC's Bridlington procedures set out a means of resolving recruitment disputes. But Government trade union reform has given individuals the right to join the union of their choice.
In a ballot, 115 of the 173 MSF members at Abertay voted by 69 per cent to join the AUT, with 31 per cent voting to join the University Lecturers' Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland. Just one member opted to stay in MSF, with the AUT as second choice. There are about 300 academic staff in the university. Paul Talbot, MSF national officer, said: "We are talking to the AUT about the situation in an attempt to try to find a resolution to the difficulty."
The move has caused disquiet in the EIS, the key staff union in the new Scottish universities. Jack Dale, EIS further and higher education secretary, said: "Given what is happening in national negotiating procedures, it seems to me premature of staff at Abertay to go to the AUT. I believe a major part of the reason why they voted as they did is because they believe they are being swept into United Kingdom machinery in which they could see the AUT dominating the trade union side."
But Mr Dale said it was becoming ever more apparent that the University and College Employers Association was in extreme difficulty, and the chance of continuing separate Scottish negotiations was now quite real. While separate bargaining existed, the EIS opposed the idea of the AUT moving into its sphere of influence.