University admissions are likely to be thrown into chaos as unions reveal plans to step up their campaign over pay.
Lecturers' unions say that if next Tuesday's one-day strike fails to break the deadlock over pay then they will consider "gumming up the works" of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service at departmental and institutional level.
An admissions boycott would affect around 250,000 school-leavers hoping to enter higher education next autumn. The unions hope that the action will be an effective way of applying political pressure through parents.
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "This would have a very direct impact on the employers and Government and, while we very much regret such action, the fact is that we have been pushed back to a point where real wages are below 1981 levels."
Christine Cheesman, chief executive of the Association of University and College Lecturers, said: "We would consider this move as a very useful way forward."
John Akker, general secretary of the National Association of Lecturers in Further and Higher Education, said: "If there is no response from vice chancellors all options will be considered."
Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, pointed out: "If, because of industrial action there are no students admitted then there will be even less money available to institutions to pay salaries."
Eight unions voted last week in favour of industrial action short of and including strikes. Turnouts ranged from 38 per cent to 70 per cent and the average percentage voting in favour of strike action was 63 per cent.
Next Tuesday's one-day strike will virtually shut down every university and higher education college. Employees, from porters to professors, are expected to be manning picket lines. The National Union of Students has given the strike overwhelming support and will keep offices open to provide emergency welfare services and to act as a hub of campus action.
No further ballots will be required for an admissions boycott or for further one-day strikes. However, the unions have not ruled out an examinations boycott and have promised members further consultation before taking such a step.
AUT national executive member Peter Borcherds abstained from voting in favour of strike action. He said that a strike was pointless, harming only students, and that academics ought to be able to communicate their grievances to Government without resorting to industrial action.