UNIVERSITIES across Merseyside are expecting severe disruption today when hundreds of lecturers stage a one-day strike.
The industrial action is part of a national campaign by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the university and college lecturers' union NATFHE.
Union leaders say it means all lectures and classes are likely to be cancelled at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool Hope University, and Edge Hill College.
Libraries could also be affected if non-striking staff refuse to cross picket lines.
Lecturers say their pay has fallen behind in relative terms compared with other professionals.
AUT and NATFHE members will hold a joint rally at midday outside Liverpool University's foundation building, followed by another outside John Moores HQ.
John Fry, president of Liverpool AUT, said: "Various sources, including our own Prime Minister, have acknowledged our pay has fallen behind in relative terms over the past 20 years.
"The dispute is all about salaries and our longstanding claim to catch up with other professionals such as medical doctors, MPs and headteachers. The gap is now very large indeed.
"There is a terrible reluctance to hurt students on the part of my colleagues and our decision to take industrial action has not been taken lightly."
Lecturers generally start on salaries of around £24,352, which rise to £30,304.
Unions now want a 23% pay increase during the next three years.
They argue vice-chancellors have reneged on a public promise to put at least a third of the money derived from the new funding regime, including the controversial top-up fees, back into staff pay.
Adrian Jones, NATFHE's regional official for the north of England, said: "It is a very different story with the salaries of more senior managers, with vice-chancellors awarding themselves an increase of 25% over a three-year period from 2001-4. This leaves a very sour taste in the mouths of our members.
"The last thing we want is to cause inconvenience to students, but this has been forced on us by the dilatory way in which the employers have dealt with the pay dispute."
Liverpool JMU said it would open as normal, though students had been notified that some classes may be affected.
A spokeswoman said: "Though broadly supportive of demands to improve pay and conditions for all university staff, we cannot condone strike action due to the adverse impact this action will have on our students."
A University of Liverpool spokesperson said: "We wish to continue discussions with LAUT on a positive pay agenda at the University of Liverpool."
Tomorrow lecturers will start an assessment boycott, which could leave thousands with unmarked coursework.