Pay negotiations between university staff leaders and employers could be derailed by in-fighting among trade unions.
Progress is being hampered by a stand-off between the Association of University Teachers and Unison over the reform of national pay-bargaining machinery recommended in the 1999 Bett report into pay and conditions.
Some members of the negotiating teams say the stalemate could threaten this year's pay deal and force the resumption of industrial action at the end of this month.
The unions' battle centres on the structure of the proposed national council, recommended by the Bett report as a single bargaining forum to rationalise ten different sets of negotiating and consultation arrangements.
Bett said that the council, made up of all the organisations representing staff and employers, should be divided into two sub-councils - one to negotiate on pay and conditions for academic staff, the other to cover all non-academic staff.
The AUT and Unison have clashed over the division of non-academic and academic-related staff.
Some 20 per cent of the AUT membership is made up of "academic-related" staff, such as librarians and senior administrative staff. The AUT wants to continue to represent all its staff in the academic sub-council.
Unison, which ultimately wants academic and non-academic staff to unite into a single bargaining unit, is adamant that if it accepts any sub-council split, it should be along clear academic/non-academic lines.
A Unison spokeswoman said: "There are a number of issues affecting the progress of the pay talks, but anything that causes the unions to focus elsewhere rather than on the issue of pay is not helpful."
Jocelyn Prudence, chief of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said she was confident that talks on pay would progress, but said it would be "helpful" for the unions to "sort out their positions".