Universities are to set their own equal opportunities targets for employees but want more government cash for staffing.
Employers and the Association of University Teachers met education secretary David Blunkett on Tuesday and secured his backing on target setting. Each university will now work with staff representatives to fix targets.
Institutions and unions also issued a joint call for more cash to help meet the recommendations in the Bett report on academic pay and conditions. They said the economic benefits from higher education were dependent on university quality and that underpinning this were issues of staff recruitment and retention.
Howard Newby, president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: "We need to stop defending the indefensible and instead make a difference in our institutions. Equal pay for work of equal value has to be established."