Lecturers in new universities have voted to accept a pay increase of 3% for 2005.
But their union Natfhe today promised to mount a campaign for a "significant" pay increase in 2006 when extra income from top-up fees will start flowing into higher education institutions. They warned of industrial action if their demands aren't met.
The union strongly opposed the introduction of variable fees of up to £3,000 a year but is demanding that one-third of top-up fee income is spent on staff pay.
Natfhe is on the point of merging with the Association of University Teachers, which represents academic staff in old universities. Many lecturers hope this will give them increased bargaining power with university management in the coming year.
Members of Natfhe, which represents 20,000 staff in new universities and higher education colleges, voted by a margin of seven to one to accept the pay offer and launch the campaign.
Roger Kline, head of higher education at Natfhe, said: "When trying to justify the introduction of top-up fees, ministers led university lecturers, MPs and the public to believe that a third of this new income would be used to improve pay. We are going to test their commitment to that.
"We cannot continue to let lecturers' pay slide down the national and international league tables, losing purchasing power and damaging recruitment to the profession."
Mr Kline added: "The high quality of higher education must be maintained by rewarding lecturers accordingly. Whilst we do not believe that charging students top-up fees is an equitable or sustainable method of introducing new university funding, we must ensure that new income from whatever source is used to improve the pay of staff.
"We will seek an early commitment from employers to commit enough top-up fee and other income to achieve fair pay. A rejection of this is likely to trigger industrial action," he said.
The two lecturers' unions and the Educational Institute of Scotland recently rejected an offer of a two-year deal worth 5.5%. National officials of the unions will now develop plans for a joint pay campaign, exploring the possibility of industrial action.
Natfhe said a campaign was likely to be launched in November, with a rally or lobby in London, events in Wales and Scotland, and possibly a one-day strike.
UK lecturers have received only half the average pay increase of public sector staff in recent years and trail badly behind equivalent professionals in the UK and internationally, claims Natfhe.