A "new militancy" has taken root in higher education as up to 1,000 academic jobs face the axe in new universities. Support staff are to join academics' industrial action and there are plans for a national strike over conditions.
Lecturers' union Natfhe said redundancies were threatened at one in three new universities as the sector fails to meet recruitment targets and as old universities poach students.
The first of two one-day strikes took place yesterday at the University of Hertfordshire, where up to 104 jobs are to be cut to counter a projected £2.65 million deficit next year.
Union members have also chosen strike action at the business school at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, in protest at "invisible" increases in their workloads.
Academics at Liverpool John Moores University are boycotting all clerical work transferred to them after the loss of secretarial support.
Action also looms at De Montfort University, where Natfhe has declared a collective dispute with the university, following its decision to close the economics programmes with just 24 hours' notice to the union.
At the University of Northumbria, the union is meeting to decide whether to ballot for strike action or action short of a strike over plans for a 7 per cent budget cut.
Tom Wilson, head of universities at Natfhe, said: "We will not take this lying down." Officials have been reporting a "new militancy" in the sector.
"All institutions were budgeting for an increase in student numbers, but many are struggling to simply maintain numbers, and it means funding cuts and redundancies," said Mr Wilson.
Despite an additional 19,000 full-time places, universities have recruited only about 6,000 more students than last year.
Mr Wilson accused old universities of exploiting greater recruitment flexibility to poach students from new universities. "New universities that were hitting their recruitment targets are now facing 2 per cent shortfalls."
The University of Hertfordshire said its strategy, including the closure of social sciences, civil engineering, chemistry and performing arts, was "entirely appropriate". It disputed Natfhe's claim that consultation had been a "sham" and said it had followed set procedures.
Derek Crothall, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, said: "Natfhe alleges we have breached a workload allocation agreement. We put interim proposals to them and expected a response, but they have gone forward with the ballot."
Unison is balloting its members for a national strike over pay and conditions and is reporting a "rising tide of discontent" that will bring HE to a "standstill".
Elaine Harrison, head of higher education, said more than 70 per cent of members in an informal ballot had rejected their pay offer and 90 per cent had rejected the attempts by employers to end national bargaining over terms and conditions.