Industrial action by university lecturers appeared increasingly likely this week, as the University and College Union confirmed it would ballot members by the end of January unless "satisfactory progress" was made over a list of concerns.
The prospect of a formal dispute between the UCU and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) has been mounting since December, when the union submitted its pay claim for an increase of at least 8 per cent for 2009-10.
Employers insisted that talks would not start until March, when the non-academic campus unions had agreed to begin discussions under new negotiating machinery.
But the UCU has rejected the new pay negotiating machinery. Its general secretary Sally Hunt wrote to vice-chancellors on 9 January, listing the points at issue.
These include: concerns that the timetable would delay any industrial action until the summer (the UCU wanted the right to strike before June); a demand that there should be a negotiating subcommittee for academics, distinct from the single table for all unions; and concerns that Ucea was allowing universities to "opt out" of national negotiations.
"I am mandated by the UCU's higher education committee to ballot our members to take industrial action at the end of January should satisfactory progress not be made," Ms Hunt said.
Ucea agreed to meet with the union through the Advisory, Concilliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), but, at the time of going to press, talks had not started in earnest, suggesting that the ballot would go ahead.
Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea chief executive, said: "We very much hope that the Acas process can get under way imminently ... that this is allowed to run its course and that the UCU does not proceed to an industrial-action ballot."
A UCU spokesperson said: "We continue to believe a settlement is possible with goodwill on both sides. To that end we hope that talks with Acas and Ucea will progress in the very near future."