Employers were due to improve on a 3.3 per cent pay offer in a crunch meeting with the trade unions as The THES went to press this week.
But the expected increased offer is unlikely to be good enough to avert a summer of industrial action that could unite lecturers' unions, Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, in a campaign that is set to block student graduations.
In advance of the final meeting with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association yesterday, Natfhe said it was seriously concerned about "soundings" it had received from the employers.
Natfhe said that the UCEA led it to believe that there would be an increase to the rejected 3.3 per cent offer but it would be "only a very insignificant amount".
Natfhe warned vice-chancellors that a consultation had shown that its members are six-to-one in favour of proposals to step up action and to hold strikes if there is no "acceptable" improvement. Action earlier this year, which included a boycott of exam board meetings, prevented thousands of new nurses and teachers taking up their jobs.
The breakdown of talks could shatter plans to reform pay negotiating machinery as recommended in the Bett report on pay and conditions.
UCEA chief Jocelyn Prudence said she expected to outline a "very attractive offer and approach" that could avert action.
The pay campaign is bolstered by expectations that the AUT, hitherto the only union to avoid action this year, could join strikes.
Action on pay is set to top the AUT's agenda for its summer council in Scarborough next week. A series of motions calls for a ballot on industrial action.
A motion from the AUT's Leicester association will say that members ought to be balloted on action "in view of the continuing failure of the UCEA to take seriously the crisis in higher education staff pay and conditions... and in view of the manifest failure and lack of coherence of the AUT strategy in 2000-2001".
Other topics to be debated include:
- Calls for a pay-review body
- A condemnation of the Quality Assurance Agency's new regime for auditing universities
- Criticism of the Research Assessment Exercise
- A campaign against casualisation
- Attacks on the prospect of performance-related pay
- Greater protection and support for staff facing complaints from students
- A cap on the general secretary's pay, in line with members' pay
- Plans for the AUT to set up a rival to the Institute of Learning and Teaching.
AUT general secretary David Treisman told The THES this week that he wanted to use the conference to "inaugurate a major war on bureaucracy".