The lecturers' trade unions are likely to accept a 2005 pay offer that just three weeks ago they dismissed as "hugely disappointing" in an attempt to rally grassroots support for a battle for a better pay increase next year.
The deal will mean a 3 per cent rise in salaries for most academics, with slightly higher increases for staff on low pay.
The three lecturers' unions refused to consider a two-year offer of 5.5 per cent - covering 2005 and 2006 - in final pay talks last month because they believed their case for major pay increases would be boosted by the arrival of extra income in universities from top-up tuition fees to be introduced from 2006.
But the one-year deal being offered instead - 3 per cent, as opposed to the 11 per cent the unions had demanded - was branded insulting and "hugely disappointing".
The unions said that the figure was so close to expected inflation levels that it was "hardly an increase at all".
It emerged this week that despite the unions' anger over the pay deal on offer, they are unlikely to reject it formally and take industrial action.
It is understood that extensive informal consultation by the Association of University Teachers with its local branches and local members has revealed little appetite for a pay fight this year.
The union will this week begin a formal consultation with members, with a final decision due in the first week of September.
An AUT source said: "They are more interested in fighting when top-up fees are here next year. The sense is that they will not reject it."
Local activists are also understood to be concentrating on implementing last year's historic reform of salary structures this year.
Sources at lecturers' union Natfhe said that it was likely to follow the same line as the AUT to show solidarity in the lead-up to the planned merger between the unions next year. But its national executive was due to decide its official line in advance of a members' ballot after The Times Higher went to press.
The deal, which offers bigger rises to the lowest paid, simply adds 3 per cent to all salaries above a minimum of £13,200 - increasing, for example, a salary of £20,000 to £20,600.
Below the £13,200 cut-off point, a series of lump sums will be added to offer higher increases.
Staff who earn less than £11,500 a year will receive a flat-rate increase of £500, with those earning between £11,500 and £12,500 getting a rise of £450. Those who earn between £12,500 and £13,200 will get £400.
With the reduction in working hours expected after a review, some manual staff will see their hourly pay rate increase from £5. to £5.67, a rise of 7.6 per cent.
Lecturers working in the capital will get a 3.5 per cent increase in the London weighting cost-of-living allowance - this will mean an extra £100 a year for those in inner London and £60 for those in outer London.
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said the offer was a "realistic deal" in the light of the sector's "uncertain financial future".
She said: "Acceptance will mean stability for both staff and students, and we are pleased that the AUT will recommend it to their members."