The Association of University Teachers has today made public a strategy to bring to a halt two years of rivalry and disagreement with lecturers' union Natfhe by creating a single union for higher education.
But already there are signs of renewed disharmony over the move which AUT general secretary David Triesman says could resolve points of contention and break the unions out of old "debilitating" patterns of competition.
The proposal tackles the thorny issue of joint membership, setting out a detailed strategy allowing staff in colleges which merge into universities to become members of both AUT and Natfhe.
But Natfhe has expressed suspicion since officials fear the proposals are aimed at maintaining AUT's sole recognition agreements within the old universities.
Natfhe said that while the document restated important principles it did not tackle the fundamental problem of recognition in merged institutions. John Akker, Natfhe general secretary, said a debate on enhancing trade union services was essential but this should not take place on the basis of narrow recognition concerns in a handful of institutions.
"The real issue for higher education is how organisations can pool their resources and expertise to greater effect," he said. "What is needed is a wide-ranging debate on how to create an efficient, effective and coherent organisation for staff in both the individual sectors of post school education."
Mr Akker added Natfhe had already proposed a single union but that the idea been rejected. It also put joint membership plans forward in May 1993 but these discussions did not succeed. "We don't want to get drawn into disagreements about who bargains for whom."
The AUT argues that it has repeatedly made proposals for closer relationships to which Natfhe has failed to respond. For too long decisions affecting thousands of individual members have been taken by union "top brass" said Mr Triesman and it had become all too easy to keep discussion under wraps and to allow members to believe that nothing positive was on offer.