The UK's biggest trade union has vowed to pursue prosecutions against universities that break equal pay laws by treating academics more favourably than support staff.
Unison said this week that it would "actively search" for legal cases to take against universities that they believed might be "embedding"
discrimination under the 2004 framework agreement pay reforms, which are meant to ensure equal pay for work of equal worth.
Jon Richards, the senior national officer at Unison's education workforce unit, said that some old universities gave better terms and conditions to academic staff. He said: "Some institutions and organisations talk the talk on equal pay, yet when it comes down to implementation, self-interest blinds them. They are led by academics, and they will always favour their own."
The framework agreement for the modernisation of pay places all university staff on a single pay spine. Employees are given job evaluations to determine where they will be placed on the spine. Some universities have implemented agreements locally, and the sector has until August to complete the process.
Unison is concerned that deals could be struck in some institutions that result in academic staff being promised starting salaries higher up the pay spine than their non-academic counterparts, or being given guarantees that they will receive higher annual pay increments.
"We will be actively searching (for) cases to take against employers who insist on such agreements," Mr Richards said.
Unison is in the process of rejecting restructuring plans at Loughborough and Manchester universities as a result of fears about fair pay. It agreed a deal at University College London but not without reservations.
Talks are continuing at Manchester, and the institution refused to comment at this stage.
Unison is balloting members at Loughborough on whether to accept the proposed framework. The university is awaiting the outcome.
Tom Silverlock, Unison branch secretary at UCL, said that while the deal was a good one, which included an 11 per cent increase to the minimum hourly wage, it included differential arrangements for some academic and non-academic staff. He said the union would support members seeking to bring equal pay cases.
A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said that unions could refuse to sign up to local pay framework agreements if they felt them to be inequitable.
But he said: "Under equal pay legislation, and as part of the framework agreement, some individuals holding similar posts can receive additional pay if there is a sound business reason."