The spectre of strike action over pay has been raised by the University and College Union.
On 8 April, Sally Hunt, secretary general of the UCU, wrote to all university heads after the first meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee of Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) failed to produce a pay offer from employers.
She writes: "Employers informed us that they were not yet in a position to make a pay offer, to the general surprise and disappointment of UCU and our sister unions. Effective ... bargaining requires both sides to keep their promises."
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association also told the unions that up to 100 universities were planning redundancies and that any pay offer would have to be balanced against the need to protect jobs, Ms Hunt writes.
The UCU Higher Education Committee has asked negotiators to secure "a credible pay offer" by 20 April and "a commitment to reach a national agreement on the avoidance of redundancies", she adds.
"There is very strong feeling about the wave of ad hoc job cuts across the sector. Failing an acceptable response ... I am mandated to consider balloting members for industrial action."
The UCU has demanded a rise equivalent to the retail prices index plus 5 per cent, or an 8 per cent increase, whichever is greater.
Ucea was unavailable for comment but Times Higher Education understands that it has told the UCU it always intended to make a pay offer at the next JNCHES meeting on April.