In a ballot involving 69 higher education institutions, 78 per cent of members of the University and College Union who voted said they supported strike action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
Some 87 per cent who voted said they would back action short of a strike, which could include a marking boycott.
The turnout of 45 per cent was the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006, the union said.
The results, which affect pre-1992 universities, were published ahead of talks between the union and employers’ representative scheduled for 22 October.
They follow the publication of plans by Universities UK to end the final salary scheme offered by USS and move about 150,000 active members to a career average scheme, with a defined contribution element. However, benefits accrued would be protected up to the point of change, which would likely be in April 2016.
Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said members have “made it quite clear today that they reject the radical changes being proposed for their pensions”.
“We will go into talks on Wednesday hopeful that we can resolve the current impasse,” she added, saying she wanted to see “real improvements” to the proposals tabled by UUK.
“If the employers do not address our concerns then we will meet on Friday to determine what forms of disruptive action we take and when they would start,” she added.
A UUK spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the UCU is already threatening to affect students with an assessment boycott.
“Everyone is aware that pensions are a vital part of the higher education pay and reward package, but the USS negotiations between UUK and UCU have not yet concluded.
“UUK believes that the employers’ proposals are the best that can be achieved in terms of protecting employees’ salaries, given the substantial scheme deficit and the risks to the future viability of the scheme if these reforms are not implemented.
“Universities have to protect their students and cannot accept partial performance from staff. This would be a damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education.”