Academics across Australia will hold a week of industrial action from May , including a nationwide 24-hour strike, in support of a 15 per cent pay claim.
The sanctions threaten to disrupt universities and even force some to close. Academics warned that they plan to intensify their campaign.
Students have backed the move and thousands are expected to boycott any classes that are held. The National Union of Students has called for a week of action before the academics' protest and will be campaigning against possible government plans to slash funding.
The National Tertiary Education Union has called on academics and general staff to support its week of protests, although union officials expect to hold further talks soon with education minister Amanda Vanstone. The union has authorised campus branches to extend the 24-hour strike if members agree.
Academics want the government to meet the costs of the 15 per cent salary increase through an immediate 8 per cent rise, with full supplementation for a second instalment of 7 per cent later.
Academics at several universities have already begun taking industrial action, including banning classes and refusing to pass on enrolment information to administrators.
Fay Gale, the president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, said she was not surprised by the union's decision to call for action. Although vice chancellors could not support the strike, Professor Gale said they understood.
"Staff deserve a rise. They've waited a long time and they have made enormous efficiency gains over the past decade as student numbers have grown without a comparable increase in funding. I have no doubt there is growing alarm among the staff at the failure of the government to respond," she said.
A continuing problem for both the vice chancellors and their staff is that the minister has not given any clues about the extent of the cuts.
Grahame McCulloch, NTEU general secretary, said the union hoped that when officials met the minister later this month she would give details about the higher education budget.
Professor Gale has asked her colleagues to show where cuts of up to 10 per cent would have to be made and the impact these would have.
She said vice chancellors believed that to cut spending on universities, which were of such enormous social and economic benefit, was extremely short-sighted.
"We are afraid that we will not be told anything about the cuts before the August budget yet we will be expected to implement them by the start of next year. That shows a total lack of understanding of university timetables."