Old universities could be hit by a wave of industrial action designed to "hurt students" as early as February next year, writes Phil Baty.
The executive committee of the Association of University Teachers has agreed to ballot its 45,000 members on action including strikes early in the new year if, as is almost inevitable, employers do not agree to make dramatic improve-ments to the pay offer at a final negotiating meeting next week.
Union sources said it would be ready to start its campaign of disruption, which would include strikes and exam boycotts, in February.
AUT assistant general secretary Matt Waddup said: "The AUT executive has been left with no alternative after the employers' intransigence but to make arrangements for a ballot for industrial action."
The union remains opposed to the 7.7 per cent two-year pay offer and the package of reforms to the pay structures that come with it.
Under the deal, all university staff would be moved onto a single pay spine from next year after they have undergone formal "job evaluation" exercises to determine where they would be placed on the career ladder.
The AUT said that not only were the salary increases far too low, but the new structures would also increase the number of rungs up the pay ladder its members would have to climb.
The union said the structures would reduce the size of annual pay increments and would ultimately knock thousands of pounds off their members' lifetime earnings.
But the AUT's members will be asked to walk out primarily on behalf of the union's academic-related members, such as librarians and computer technicians, who make up about a quarter of the membership.
Under the deal, academic-related staff will be subject to local pay determination, while academics will remain on nationally agreed job grades.
The AUT said that this was unacceptable.
Employers have indicated that they will not move on the issue.
Mr Waddup said that the employers could still avert a national dispute if they made enough concessions at the final meeting of all unions and employers about the pay deal, which has been scheduled for December 16.