More than two million university students could face disruption next month when lecturers refuse to mark coursework or organise exams in a dispute over pay.
The lecturers' unions, Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, which are merging, announced "unparalleled industrial action" across UK universities which will begin with a one-day strike on 7 March followed by an ongoing marking boycott.
Students could be left with coursework unmarked, lectures cancelled and exams thrown into chaos after the unions announced the marking boycott, arguing that lecturers' salaries have fallen by 40 per cent over the past 20 years.
Lecturers insist that improved government funding and the extra billions generated by the £3,000 a year top-up fees means that universities can afford to improve staff pay after decades of decline.
The unions argue that at least one third of the estimated £3.5bn which will be raised by top-up fees should be spent on boosting academics' pay packets.
Many academics are angry that junior research staff can start on as little as £13,274 a year, lecturers on £24,352 and senior lecturers on £37,513.
The unions voted last week in favour of strike action and also for "action short of a strike", including assessment boycotts.
Sally Hunt, the AUT general secretary, accused universities of "gambling" with students' futures by failing to settle the dispute.Reuse content