The University and College Union remains on course for national strike ballots after failing to achieve breakthroughs on jobs, pay and pensions.
Despite the union's failure to reach a deal with employers on pay, the sector's staff may finally see this year's rise in their bank accounts.
At a meeting with the sector's five unions last week, higher education employers refused to up their offer of a 0.4 per cent pay rise for 2010-11.
The GMB, Unison and Unite have accepted the offer.
The Educational Institute of Scotland again rejected the offer, as did the UCU, which also wants the employers to offer a national deal on avoiding redundancies.
Universities are growing impatient over pay - talks began in March 2010 - and want to settle their budgets before the end of the financial year.
Both union and employer sources suggested that individual universities are likely to pay staff the rise, backdated to the beginning of the academic year.
The UCU will start a ballot for strike action over pay and jobs on 2 February.
The latest round of talks on the 0.4 per cent offer came amid reports of large pay rises for vice-chancellors in 2009-10: vice-chancellors in three-quarters of the 87 universities examined enjoyed increases in their pay and benefits, some as high as 20 per cent.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "Higher education staff are taking a real-terms pay cut for a second year and vice-chancellors want a pay freeze for the third...Every year we hear that pay at the top will be addressed, but it never is."
Meanwhile, the UCU is still set for another strike ballot on 2 February over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
The union said "concessions" on the employers' plans were "not enough" to avert the threat of industrial action.
At a meeting last week after a consultation with members, the scheme's governing trustees recommended revisions on only two points: the level of inflation caps for pension increases and pensions in deferment, and the ban on people rejoining the final-salary section after more than six months out.