More than 70,000 university workers at 150 universities were able to go on strike after union members voted for action.
The University and College Union (UCU) said the result of a vote on Monday was a clear indication of staff anger over pay, conditions and pensions.
The UCU, which represents a large number of academics, lecturers, researchers, managers, administrators and other staff, has now called on the vice chancellors to start negotiations to avoid disruption.
UCU Secretary General Jo Grady said: “Today history was made by our members at the universities who have issued an unprecedented mandate for strike action in large numbers.
“The vice chancellors who run the universities are repeatedly and in a coordinated manner after our members.
“Well, now there are 150 bosses against 70,000 university employees who are ready and willing to shut down the entire sector unless serious negotiations start very soon.
“University staff are an important workforce in communities across the UK. They are sending a clear signal that they will not accept falling wages, precarious employment and attacks on pensions. They know their power and are ready to take back what is theirs from a sector that brings in tens of billions of pounds.”
The union said university staff faced poverty amid the cost of living crisis and called for a 12% pay rise – in line with inflation according to the Retail Price Index (RPI) – plus a further 2%.
In May, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents higher education institutions in wage negotiations, announced a system of graduated pay rises, starting at 9% for the lowest paid employees and dropping to 3% for those with higher salaries. which arrived in August.
The UCU also said university staff are on average working two extra days a week unpaid due to excessive workloads, while a third of academic staff are on precarious contracts.
University staff are an important workforce in communities across the UK. They are sending a clear signal that they will not accept falling wages, precarious employment and attacks on pensions
Meanwhile, she is fighting cuts to a pension scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the union said a typical member would lose 35% of their guaranteed retirement income.
MPs voted in two separate votes: for wages and working conditions and pension cuts.
In the vote on wages and working conditions, the vote in favor of strikes was 81.1% and the turnout was 57.8%.
In the pensions vote, the vote in favor of the strike action was 84.9% and the voter turnout was 60.2%. Employees also voted in both ballots for measures to be taken shortly before a strike.
UCEA chief Raj Jethwa said the result was “disappointing”.
He said: “The UCEA and its member HE [higher education] Institutions want to work with the UCU and other unions to support staff and students and avoid disruptive industrial action.
“However, it must be realistically assessed what is possible.”
Mr Jewtha said higher education institutions are facing rising costs and most incomes are falling.
He added that pay rises put jobs at risk and that he hopes the UCU will “carefully consider how to respond to this election result”.
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