More than 100,000 students will be hit as staff prepare to shut down London universities in a dispute over pay and the failure to recognise the cost of living in the capital.
As The THES went to press, lecturers' union Natfhe, the Association of University Teachers and technicians' union Amicus were expecting resounding "yes" votes in favour of industrial action over their members' London weighting.
Unison members have already given the go-ahead. All four unions are expected to join the first of a series of strikes on November 14.
The unions want a £4,000 annual lump sum in recognition of the extra costs of living in London.
Natfhe's Andy Pike said: "This is the first time the academic and non-academic unions have joined forces on the issue. Not only will teaching and administration be affected but, for health and safety reasons, many universities may have to shut down."
Mr Pike said that the unions see November 14 as the beginning of a campaign of industrial action. He said: "There are a number of options, including further strikes and action short of a strike. We will also look at what's happening elsewhere in the public sector."
Mr Pike said that firefighters had rejected a £4,300 London weighting offer, and £4,000 was less than the police received. He said the sum demanded by higher education staff was realistic.
Natfhe members in new universities have already rejected the employers' offer to increase their allowance by 3.5 per cent. Mr Pike said this would mean just £3 more a month for staff in outer London and £7 more in inner London. At the top end of the pay scale, lecturers in new universities get up to £2,400 London weighting.
In old universities, where there is no formal London negotiating forum, AUT members have not seen an increase to their £2,000 London allowance for ten years, while house prices and the cost of living have rocketed.
AUT general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The last time London weighting for University of London staff was increased, President George Bush Senior and President Yeltsin had just announced the end of the cold war. That is simply unacceptable."
£37,000 a year and struggling
By most academics' standards, Jim Todd, right, is well off. A senior lecturer at the top of his pay scale at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he earns just under £37,000 a year.
But with a wife and three children to support, and with the mounting costs of living and working in the Southeast, the salary may not be enough to keep Dr Todd in higher education.
"The school has been good to me, and I promised myself I would stay. But there is a limit to how long I can keep it up," he said.
Dr Todd's problems started in 2000. Returning from a long-term research project in Africa, he tried to find a family home.
"At the time we could afford a mortgage of around £120,000, but in London, you'll be lucky to find a one-bedroom flat for that."
Instead of enduring a shoebox, the Todds moved to Andover, in Hampshire, which is a four-hour round trip to work. The commuting costs around £2,500 a year, which swallows his £2,600 London weighting.
"I'm already looking for other jobs and I'll probably join the brain drain out of London," he said.
John Flood, professor of law at Westminster University, said he has just recruited a lecturer from Oxford, who could not afford to move to the capital and will commute.
"It's getting a lot harder to recruit good staff here," he said.