Members of higher education's biggest union will vote on whether to strike over jobs and pensions in the new year, unless concessions are made by employers.
A motion to hold "separate but parallel" ballots for industrial action on job security and pensions won strong backing from delegates at the University and College Union's special sector conference in Manchester last week.
The conference also passed a motion from the University of Liverpool's UCU branch, which calls for assessment boycotts, for strikes to be held for one week a month, and for action to be coordinated with other unions "for maximum disruption of university business".
However, the mover of the Liverpool motion accepted that the union's governing Higher Education Committee would need to discuss the form of any strike action.
The pensions and jobs ballots are scheduled to take place after a Universities Superannuation Scheme trustees meeting on 20 January.
Plans to reform the USS put forward by the Employers Pensions Forum - which include ending final-salary pensions for new entrants and introducing a pension age of 65 - are out to consultation with members. The trustee meeting could rubber-stamp those changes.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association has refused to discuss a national deal on avoiding redundancies.
Michael MacNeil, the UCU's head of higher education, said this was "reckless and irresponsible" in the current climate.
He added: "To make matters worse, the employers have decided to launch a completely unnecessary attack on our members' pensions...The clock is ticking. It is time for the employers to think again and return to the negotiating table."
The employers' 2010-11 offer includes a 0.4 per cent pay rise. It has been accepted by Unison, another of the five higher education unions.
While the UCU's ballot motion covers the employers' offer as a whole, it notes that "jobs and pensions were the priority issues".
A Ucea spokesman said talk of industrial action was "premature while efforts to resolve continue through Acas".
An EPF spokesman said the USS consultation followed "two years of negotiations instigated by USS".