The Association of University Teachers rejected a proposed pay increase this week of 2.5 per cent as "inadequate" and "meanminded".
The union, which represents academic and related staff in the old universities, had asked for a 30 per cent rise over time. It wants an independent review of university reserves to assess how much vice-chancellors can afford to spend on staff.
Employers offered a 2.5 per cent rise from April 1 this year, plus a lump sum equivalent to a 2.5 per cent rise over four months on April 1 2001, to compensate for a change to a common review date for higher education unions of August 1 from next year. They also proposed eliminating the bottom salary point on the lecturers' scale, making the minimum Pounds 18,640.
The AUT argues that this would not help academic-related staff.
Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "The hands of employers are tied in terms of the offer they can afford to make this year."
He said universities were serious about recommendations from the Bett inquiry but would need an estimated Pounds 475 million per year to meet them.
But David Triesman, AUT chief executive, said: "Many institutions continue to increase their reserves while spending less and less on pay. It is time to treat staff fairly and reward the massive productivity gains they have made."
Unison has rejected an offer of 3 per cent for manual workers in old universities and is still considering whether to accept a change in the pay settlement date to August 1. The union said it was "very angry" at the offer. MSF, which represents technical staff in the old universities, also rejected the 2.5 per cent offer.
Further education staff have rejected a pay offer of 3 per cent, saying it will increase the gap between lecturers and school teachers.
They had asked for a flat-rate increase for lecturers of Pounds 2,500 and a 5 per cent increase for support staff, or Pounds 500, whichever is greater, plus an extra five days' holiday and Pounds 5 per hour minimum wage.
Sue Berryman, trade union-side joint secretary, speaking on behalf of academic staff, said: "Not only does this fail to bring us to the same level of teachers' pay this year, but it increases the gap." Christina McAnea, speaking on behalf of support staff, said the 3 per cent offer was not enough, particularly for the lowest paid.
Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges are struggling to keep up with the teachers' pay award, but staff expectations have increased because of the award."