UCU members in newer universities will mount a one-day strike on 30 June over the government's plans to raise employee contributions, increase the pension age and cut benefits in public sector schemes.
In post-1992 institutions, most academics are members of the public Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS), and administrators and support staff are members of the various local government pension schemes.
Employers estimate that about 200,000 higher education staff are eligible for public sector schemes. The UCU balloted about 21,000 members in higher education over the TPS.
Also set to take action alongside the UCU are the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers and the civil servants' Public and Commercial Services Union.
Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and a director of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said it was "premature" to hold industrial action while talks between unions and the government continued.
He added: "(In) the last strike action here, you could count the numbers on one hand. I expect it to be similar on the 30th."
Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said the union's members are "unlikely militants and it is unfortunate that vice-chancellors will not be supporting them in this just cause. It is not fair that ordinary people are being made to suffer huge cuts in their standards of living."
Bigger unions such as the GMB, Unison and Unite - which all have members in higher education - could mount sustained industrial action in the autumn if negotiations fail.
Jon Richards, head of higher education for Unison, said that if that happened, he would expect "a number of institutions to close" during strikes. He added that about half of Unison's 45,000 higher education members work in post-1992 institutions.