A TUC special envoy is trying to make peace between the two main lecturers' unions after fears of membership wars at universities merging with colleges.
Union relations officer Brian Ward was called in to mediate by the Association of University Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.
He is assessing the depth of the conflict at several institutions where the AUT has asked Natfhe to move off its territory.
Before the mergers the AUT enjoyed sole bargaining rights at all three - Lancaster, Brunel and Aberystwyth. Natfhe is claiming joint recognition under trade union law after these institutions merged with, respectively, Charlotte Mason School of Education, West London Institute of Art and the Welsh Agricultural College.
The AUT has offered Natfhe members from the colleges joint membership with the AUT retaining its sole negotiation position. But this has been refused by Natfhe as a form of derecognition.
David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, warned his union's annual conference last week that it must avoid a "degrading slip into membership battles" over college mergers.
He told The THES: "We do not want to lose the bargaining rights we fought for over a long period. If this does not get resolved I think it is almost inevitable employers will pick and choose who they talk to."
Mr Ward said: "The aim is to see whether we can find a means of agreement between the unions.
"It is early days and we are just discussing general principles as to what we might achieve. But we would like to come up with a solution sooner rather than later."