Union leaders said the time for talking was fast running out for the strike – due to take place on Thursday – to be called off.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) which represents and negotiates on behalf of institutions has said it is “disappointed” by the move.
Universities around the UK are expected to be affected by the action, according to the three unions taking the action – the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite.
They said they are expecting tens of thousands of members to take part and that it will have a widespread impact.
It could mean lecturers or tutorials cancelled, or possibly whole departments disrupted.
But UCEA, and vice-chancellors group Universities UK (UUK) have predicted a “low level impact” on students.
The unions argue that a 1 per cent pay rise offered to university staff – including lecturers, technicians and administration workers – means there has been a 13 per cent pay cut in real terms since October 2008.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “There is widespread anger at the pay cuts staff have had to endure in recent years and all the reports we are getting are that Thursday’s strike will be very well supported.
“We are amazed the employers are still refusing to sit down with us to try and resolve this without any need for disruption. There are precious few days left now, but our offer of talks remains open.
“If the employers refuse to move then there will be massive disruption across UK universities on Thursday. The last time we were on strike over pay was back in 2006 and this time our colleagues in Unite and Unison are also on strike.”
UCEA said according to the latest data, 378,250 people work in the sector and of these 29,538, or 7.8 per cent, voted from the three unions. About 17,800 voted for strike action.
A spokesman said: “Our higher education (HE) institutions tell us that the vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and that the 1 per cent uplift for all, in addition to other pay increases that include service increments and merit pay for many, is a good outcome.
“It is for trade unions to predict their support but, given that less than 5 per cent of the HE workforce chose to vote in favour of strike action, our institutions tell us that they anticipate a low level impact on students.”
UUK chief executive Nicola Dandridge, said: “We regret the decision by some union members to take industrial action this week. Employers have negotiated extensively and fairly with unions over pay and we believe that the majority of staff understand the reality of the current funding situation.”