Lecturers taking part in the national dispute over pay had a double dose of bad news this week as some were told that they would not be paid until "normal working" was resumed and as hitherto solid support from student unions began to fracture.
As part of a joint union campaign to win better pay, lecturers have not been processing undergraduate exam results.
Lecturers' union Natfhe has pledged to get tough with universities docking pay. Its head of universities, Tom Wilson, said universities taking this attitude would find "we can play hardball, too".
But as the assessment boycott began to bite, at least one student union withdrew support for the lecturers' action and warned that others would follow suit.
The National Union of Students has been firm in backing the unions, who want to improve a 3 per cent pay offer from bosses, but students at Teesside University passed unanimously an emergency motion defying the NUS in protest against the "unacceptable damage" being done to students.
The president of Teesside's student union, George Selmer, expressed sympathy for lecturers but said the damage to students was becoming severe because of the "bloody-mindedness" of a few lecturers. He said he expected other student unions around the country to end their support as the exam season gets under way.
"We will use all measures at our disposal, including direct action, to ensure that lecturers release assessment results."
Mr Selmer said the lecturers were attacking the wrong target and criticised the NUS. "They ought to support their own members first and foremost," he said.
Teesside University has rearranged a cancelled final assessment board meeting for 140 student nurses who have been unable to take up hospital posts. Paul Keane, director of the School of Health, said: "We are confident that the students will be registered on time with the statutory bodies."
At Sheffield Hallam University, the vice-chancellor sent lecturers a letter stating: "Once it has been established that a member of staff is taking industrial action, s/he will not be paid until they work normally." A senior SHU academic said this "blunderbuss" manner would exacerbate the dispute.
But a university spokesman said: "Because we can not rely on the employers' meeting with the national unions, scheduled for February 5, to bring a resolution, the university must take a position that will protect the interests of, and its legal and moral obligations to, its students. It therefore expects that all staff will work normally and not jeopardise the academic progression of students."