The prospect of a winter of discontent in universities loomed large this week as lecturers' union Natfhe joined the Association of University Teachers in rejecting the national pay offer as "unacceptable in its current form".
Natfhe's higher education executive committee said it would not recommend that its members accept the deal - which combines a 7.7 per cent pay rise over two years with the biggest shake-up of the career structure for 40 years.
A similar stance by the AUT means members of both unions are likely to vote for industrial action late next month.
Natfhe's higher education chief, Roger Kline, said: "We have a number of conditions for the employers before we can recommend it to our members."
The package emerged from more than 28 hours of intensive talks at the end of July. The employers offered a 3.44 per cent rise for 2003-04 followed by a near-inflation 3 per cent for 2004-05, with another 1.1 per cent likely when universities move on to a new national pay structure between 2004 and 2006.
The deal is conditional on the unions accepting a new framework agreement for the modernisation of pay structures, under which all staff transfer to a national pay spine with five academic job descriptions ranging from junior lecturer to professor.
The new structure includes performance-related pay, staff appraisals and market-based supplements for shortage and specialist subject areas.
Natfhe has the following outstanding demands that must be addressed before it will recommend the deal. It wants:
* A clause allowing renegotiation if inflation rises above 3 per cent
* Agreed guidance on "contribution points" (increments at the top of each job grade that depend on an academics' "contribution")
* Agreed guidance on job evaluation
* Progress in developing acceptable national grade profiles for academic staff
* Assurance that part-time and hourly paid staff are treated "no less favourably".
Peter Thorpe of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said he was "upbeat" about the position as neither union had rejected the offer outright.
Natfhe and the AUT will discuss the offer at specially arranged gatherings of their local branch leaders next month before balloting their members on the deal.