Thousands of university staff are preparing to stage an eight-day strike in disputes over pay, conditions and pensions, with further industrial action being threatened if agreements cannot be reached.
Up to 43,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 60 UK universities will walk out from next Monday, disrupting lectures in the run up to the Christmas break.
Picket lines will be mounted across the country, protests will be held and other forms of industrial action will be launched including not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
Those on strike include lecturers, student support services staff, admissions tutors, librarians, technicians and administrators, with the action affecting over a million students.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady warned that a second wave of strikes could be held in the new year if the deadlocked disputes remain unresolved.
Staff had reached "breaking point" over a number of issues, including workloads, real-terms cuts in pay, a 15% gender pay gap and changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the union says will leave members paying in more and receiving less in retirement.
Many universities were also employing academic staff on "discredited" zero hours contracts, said the union.
"The employers seem to want to test the mettle of staff and see if they will turn up on picket lines," Ms Grady told a press conference in London.
"It is really unfortunate they have decided to do that because they are misjudging their staff. More and more people are joining the union and there is a real feeling of anger.
"There could be a second wave of strikes if we don't get a long term, sustainable offer and universities refuse to take our concerns seriously."
The union estimated that the pension changes could leave lecturers around £240,000 worse off in retirement over their career, and up to £730,000 for professors.