A membership war between the two main lecturers' unions will be fuelled further by revelations that the Association of University Teachers wants separate national negotiations for old and new universities.
The AUT and Natfhe, the university and college lecturers union, already face a crisis in their relations because Natfhe disagrees with the AUT's insistence on its right to negotiate for staff transferring from colleges into old universities.
The AUT executive has ratified this scheme even though such members would keep joint membership of the two unions. Natfhe sees this as a step towards derecognition and threatened this week to refer the matter to the TUC with or without the AUT.
The latest AUT proposals, which are outlined in a confidential document circulated to the London local associations, stem from discussions with vice chancellors in the old universities.
One problem is the different income structure of the two sectors -- research funding still goes mainly to the old universities. The AUT says that this makes it impossible for all universities to be dealt with in the same way especially as teaching funds decline.
The AUT also argues that if all universities are to bargain jointly, university groups like the Russell group will back away. If separate bargaining groups for old and new are kept, the AUT says the "old" group will be less likely to split.
Another concern centres around the new Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which, according to the AUT, many vice chancellors from the old universities have not joined. They may decide to form their own national organisation.
David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, said of present funding: "There is no convergence, in fact systems may be diverging fast. Our research shows that the gap in the ratio of teaching to research money is as dramatic as ever."
He said that in financial terms this meant that the proportion of funding for research in the old universities which did the worst would be twice as big as that awarded to the new university that did best.
Liz Allen, Natfhe's chief higher education negotiator, said she was very concerned by suggestions that AUT no longer wanted uniform pay bargaining.
"This sends very bad signals to Natfhe members because it sounds as if the AUT would feel tainted by bargaining with us. I suspect it is an attempt by the AUT to influence the Russell group. It is worried that if you peeled off the old research universities, you would have a predominance of new universities," she said.
Steve Rouse, chief executive of the UCEA, disputed the AUT's calculations. What counted was the year-on-year increase in ability to pay and this was not so different between the old and new universities.
"The viability of the UCEA is not in question and there are now indications that the Russell group is joining, nor would there by any point in going back as the constitution is designed to accommodate both new and old. I think the main reason behind this is that the AUT wants pay and educational issues to be negotiated together, but this was never the case before," Mr Rouse said.