BALLOT papers will go out to all higher education members of lecturers' union Natfhe asking for their response to this year's pay offer.
A straw poll of branches taken in time for Natfhe's national conference last week was marginally in favour of rejecting the offer, with 23 against and 18 for. But only 41 of the 120 branches bothered to vote.
A strong vote by the total membership against is believed to be unlikely, especially after the Association of University Teachers' decision to accept the deal.
The conference, held in Eastbourne, was more upbeat than any Natfhe get-together for years. For much of this, the credit went to new general secretary, Paul Mackney.
Not everyone agreed with his reorganisation of the union into distinct further and higher education sectors, criticising the impact on regional offices and equal opportunities. But he still received a standing ovation for his conference speech, in which he told delegates "Natfhe never gives up".
Attacking "the elitists who hold that intelligence is a rare resource", Mr Mackney said Natfhe had always asserted that nearly every citizen could develop their talent to degree level and beyond. He called on the government, through its comprehensive spending review, to fund properly existing provision as well as new initiatives, "or the widening participation agenda will not get beyond matters arising".
He also held out to delegates "the prize" of a syndicate of unions based initially on a merger between the AUT, Natfhe and the National Union of Teachers, and repeated his pledge to stand down if it would help merger talks.
Delegates to the conference welcomed the government's proposals on improving employment rights published in its white paper last week, particularly plans to review the use of waiver clauses and employment agencies.
But they rejected the proposal to make trade union recognition dependent on a 40 per cent vote of the workforce. They were also heavily critical of the government's New Deal on Welfare to Work.
Birmingham representative Sue Thomas said: "The Welfare to Work project is leading us to a workfare project." She said the education aspect of the New Deal was so underfunded that some colleges said the only thing worse than losing a new deal was winning one.
Also at the conference: lDelegates unanimously condemned the management of Cricklade College in Hampshire for sacking three business studies lecturers, following suspension of the college's principal pending an inquiry into the college's financial affairs.
lHigher education sector delegates voted to support the use of the title University College by higher education colleges without full university status and agreed that the criteria for full university status should be agreed and consistently applied.
lA Natfhe survey, published at the conference, criticised a pilot scheme at the University of Central England in Birmingham for using the national employment agency's Education Lecturing Service.
The survey of 24 staff in the pilot business school, built environment, law and social sciences faculties found more than half felt the quality of staff provided by ELS was unsatisfactory. Most criticised the added costs of the employment and administration of ELS staff.