Lecturers in the old universities looked set to end industrial action over the latest pay settlement this week, after drawing up a memorandum of understanding with employers.
Compiled by negotiators from the Association of University Teachers and Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, it puts forward a common position on pay, London weighting and problems of gender discrimination and casualisation in higher education.
But before agreeing it, the AUT's executive council called for further talks to confirm that the UCEA has the authority to make decisions on institutions' behalf over matters other than pay.
These discussions were due to take place as The THES went to press. If successful, industrial action will cease.
Under the memorandum, both sides would recognise the 3.5 per cent pay rise imposed by employers as part of this year's settlement.
While the union would still refuse to accept the rise as good enough, it would agree to look at it in the context of joint work between employers and unions on submissions to the government's comprehensive spending review and on recommendations in the Bett report. These offer potential longer-term solutions to pay problems, says the union.
The memorandum also agrees to leave decisions on London weighting to the joint national council proposed by Bett or another joint forum if the national council fails to materialise.
The UCEA has already agreed to set up working parties involving all the higher education unions to address concerns over gender inequality and casualisation in the sector.
Under the memorandum, it agrees to set up further working parties to look specifically at how these issues affect academic and academic-related staff in the old universities.
At least two meetings of these working groups would take place before December 15 and would be expected to establish timetables and work plans for addressing gender discrimination and casualisation by the Bett deadline of 2002-03.
Finally, the memorandum states that normal working should resume in the old universities, where lecturers have been refusing to cooperate with teaching quality and research assessments and other administration since May.
Malcolm Keight, assistant general secretary of the AUT, said: "We have spent many years pursuing issues of casualisation and discrimination against women so elements of the paper to move forward on that were very positive.
"There are outstanding technicalities on how to move the agreement forward that have to be resolved before we can put our name to the bottom of it. Assuming the agreement is delivered then the action will be suspended," he said.
A UCEA spokesman said: "The memorandum has been under discussion for some time and we would hope the AUT would accept it and the industrial action will cease.
It was a genuine effort on our part to get these working groups set up within the context of the Bett recommendations."
He said universities had already paid out the 3.5 per cent pay rise and "there will be no further negotiations on pay".