Academics have voted in favour of strike action at universities over pay and working conditions.
Overall, 70.1% of University and College Union (UCU) members who voted in the ballot backed strikes, with 84.9% voting for action short of strikes.
The UCU said 52 branches beat the 50% turnout threshold legally required for strike action.
The threshold rule does not apply to Queen’s University Belfast or the University of Ulster, so 54 universities could take strike action over pay.
Thousands of lecturers, researchers and other academic staff have been balloted on strikes over pensions, pay and working conditions, threatening disruption at universities before the end of the year.
The UCU has warned previously that a campaign of industrial action could stretch into the new year if the deadlocked row remains unresolved.
On Thursday evening, UCU members also backed strike action in a separate dispute on pensions.
Members of the UCU who took part voted 76% in favour of strike action – with 88% in favour of action short of a strike.
The union’s higher education committee (HEC) is expected to meet on November 12 to decide the next steps.
Following the separate ballots, staff at 58 universities could take strike action – 21 over pay, 33 over both pay and pensions, and four over pensions only.
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “This result is a clear vote of no confidence in the so-called leaders of our universities, with staff telling them in no uncertain terms that they have had enough of pay and working conditions being run into the ground.
“UCU members have yet again beaten the Tory anti-union laws. Alongside our pension ballot result, this means we have a big mandate to take strike action, at a time of our choosing.
“It is scandalous that university vice-chancellors on overinflated salaries seem to think doing nothing on pay, casualisation and inequality is acceptable in a sector awash with money.
“We truly hope that disruption can be avoided, that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers who simply need to end their attacks on pensions, pay and working conditions and finally demonstrate they value their staff.”
Raj Jethwa, chief executive of employers association UCEA, said: “UCEA has read the low turnouts in the UCUs’ ballots of their members over the 2021-22 pay award as a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.
“These disaggregated ballot results are disappointing for UCU and their HEC now faces awkward discussions and has very difficult decisions to make regarding strike action.
“The low ballot numbers follow a six-month period of delay since UCEA’s pay offer for UCU to prepare and campaign for strike action clearly targeting students during the autumn term.”
The UCU claims that cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%.
It has also suggested that pay for university staff fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019, and since then employers have made below-inflation offers, with the latest worth 1.5%.
The UCU held a series of walkouts in 2019 and early 2020 over pensions, pay and conditions, which affected universities across the UK. There was also action in 2018 amid an ongoing row over pensions.
On the results of the pensions ballot, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “NUS stands in solidarity with staff who have voted for industrial action over these past few weeks.”
She added: “Staff working conditions are our learning conditions, and we must stand together if we are to realise a system that is truly student-centered and democratised.”