Rises in lecturers' starting salaries of up to 13 per cent as part of a general 3.5 per cent pay offer are likely to buy off academics threatening a winter of industrial action.
University employers this week offered to unify the starting salary for lecturers in old and new universities at £22,191, ending one of the last remnants of the binary divide. This would mean a 13.4 per cent rise in new universities and an 8.4 per cent rise in old.
Employers also increased last month's "unacceptable" 2.5 per cent general pay offer to 3.5 per cent, a deal similar to that offered to school teachers this year.
The "full and final" offer is some distance from the academic unions' demands for 15 per cent as the first step to making up a 30 per cent pay shortfall, but the deal is likely to be accepted reluctantly.
The deal will be put to members of lecturers' unions Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers and the non-academic unions without any recommendation to accept or reject.
Tom Wilson, head of the universities department at Natfhe, said: "This is a disappointing offer, but we believe it is the best that could have been achieved on the day. It is for members to decide whether to accept it or reject it, but rejection should entail a willingness to take industrial action."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the AUT, said: "It is less than the recent pay award by the school teachers' pay review body and means that our members' pay will continue to fall behind comparable professions."
Privately, union officials think it is the best deal they can get without committing to industrial action. They believe members will vote reluctantly to accept it.
Under the deal, employers have removed the bottom two pay grades for new lecturers in new universities, and one grade for lecturers in old universities. The top of the senior lecturer scale would rise by 3.9 per cent, up by £1,281 to £34,191, and the worst paid staff, manual workers, will get a 5 per cent increase to £9,374 a year.
The offer was improved in the face of threats of a united campaign of industrial action. Unions were threatening to shut universities in the autumn, with tens of thousands of staff, from cleaners to professors, uniting to reject the 2.5 per cent offer.
Peter Thorpe of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said the general offer of 3.5 per cent included a minimum rise of 3.2 per cent, with the additional 0.3 per cent used to raise the salary of the lowest paid, to help recruitment.
What the offer means
Top of senior lecturer scale:
Old salary: £32,910 New: £34,191 Increase: 3.9%
Top of principal lecturer scale:
Old: £39,141 New: £40,339 Increase: 3.2%
Lecturers' starting salary:
Old: £19,575 New: £22,191 Increase: 13%
Hourly paid rate:
Old: £28.48 an hour; New: £29.48 an hour