Phil Baty reports on fierce debate at Natfhe's annual conference
The president of the Association of University Teachers won a standing ovation when she called for one union for the higher education sector at the Natfhe conference.
Jane McAdoo went beyond AUT policy when she told delegates that the differences between the two unions could be overcome and that they should work towards full merger. Her words were warmly welcomed by Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney.
Ms McAdoo backed moves for greater cooperation and sharing of resources.
She said: "Let's work to eliminate the divisions that remain. There will be differences but they can be overcome."
At its own annual conference earlier this month, the AUT referred a motion calling for a full merger with Natfhe within five years.
A separate motion called for "maximum possible unity" between the unions, but a position paper on relations with Natfhe suggested that time and resources should not be diverted on moves to full merger.
Mr Mackney, in his address to the conference, said: "We have to build on improving our alliances. We will continue to deepen our joint work with the AUT, but we need to start thinking beyond that.
"Any differences of principle or even strategy have evaporated. As long as we are separate unions, policy differences and issues will arise which seem to justify the need for distinct organisations.
"It's not as if we're trying to reverse evolution and bring about the merger of birds and reptiles - or worse, inner and outer London."
Impetus for merger could be provided by Tom Wilson, Natfhe's head of universities, who announced his appointment as the Trades Union Congress's head of organisation and services.
As a former AUT assistant general secretary, Mr Wilson is a key enthusiast for merger and will be responsible for inter-union relations as part of his role at the TUC, when he joins at the end of July.