The Association of University Teachers put forward proposals for a joint membership scheme with lecturers' union Natfhe this week in what is seen as the first step towards a single union for higher education.
The AUT made public a letter to John Akker, general secretary of Natfhe, outlining proposals for dual membership designed first for members of institutions that merge but eventually for everyone.
The letter from David Triesman, AUT general secretary, said the union executive and council was committed to forming a single organisation for academic and related staff in higher education.
The merger of institutions has created problems of representation between the AUT and Natfhe. But talks under TUC auspices about a suitable model failed to come to a conclusion. Mr Triesman argues that the executive believes the stream of mergers could lead to relations between the two unions degenerating. It sees joint membership as the best option because competition between the two unions and institution by institution resolution would be undermining.
The AUT is to circulate the letter to its local associations and encourage them to have internal discussions as well as external ones with Natfhe members.
Mr Akker said that Natfhe would seek wide consultation among its executive and representatives of membership on the issue.
He added that Natfhe had always favoured a joint membership scheme and was prepared to thrash out a mutually acceptable model.