A lecturers' strike threatens to prevent hundreds of students getting their degrees this year at The University of Birmingham.
Lecturers at the university have voted to ballot for industrial action after pay dispute talks with managers broke down.
The university branch of the Association of University Teachers (BAUT) claims the institution has failed to address years of poor pay among academic staff.
University managers, however, say a new pay spine coming into force this month has boosted pay for some lecturers by up to 30 per cent.
It also claims to have committed to transfer a third of additional revenue gained from tuition top-up fees into salaries from this September.
BAUT secretary Suzanne Higgs said: "It is deeply regrettable that we are having to contemplate disrupting students' education in order to get a fair deal for staff.
"It goes against the grain for all of us who work in higher education, but the employers unfortunately rely on this fact in their negotiations, which is why academic salaries have fallen behind comparable professions over the last 20 years."
A series of strikes will take place in the run-up to the exam season if lecturing staff vote in favour of industrial action.
The union said this would involve a boycott of assessment and marking, coursework not being set and exam preparations halted.
Birmingham University's vice-chancellor, Professor Michael Sterling, urged union members to "consider carefully" before voting for industrial action.
In a letter to all staff he says: "Please remember that for strike action to be lawful, a simple majority of those voting, rather than a majority of those eligible to vote is required - so a small and unrepresentative turnout in favour of strike action could deprive students of their degrees this summer.
"I urge you therefore to use your vote against the proposed strike action or action short of a strike."
University lecturers claim their pay has fallen behind by 40 per cent in relation to other public sector workers.
They are demanding an initial pay rise for this year as a first step towards addressing the deficit.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents university managers, and the AUT's national body failed to reach agreement during a meeting last week.
Prof Sterling said: "The AUT appears to have taken this as a refusal to negotiate and is set on a course of industrial unrest."
Lecturers and senior administrative at Birmingham University will receive their ballot papers on Monday.
Sue Blackwell, spokeswoman for BAUT, said: "There will be a lot of members of staff who will be exactly where they are already on the new pay spine.
"Our pay used to be equal to that of MPs a couple of decades ago. Now some of our students going into business and industry graduate on higher salaries than the people who taught them."