Staff at two West Midlands universities are to start up to 14 days of industrial action this week in a row of pensions.
Up to 38,000 students at Aston University and University of Warwick could be affected by the walkouts by members of the University and College Union.
They will join staff from 62 other institutions across the UK in the industrial action which centres on proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension scheme.
The union said this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set up.
The union said that Universities UK, which represents the universities, is seeking to push through the changes and claims it has refused to negotiate with it, leaving it with no alternative but to strike.
It is asking students to get their vice-chancellors to put pressure on Universities UK to return to the negotiating table.
There are two planned days of strike action this week - on February 22 and 23 - followed by three days next week, four days in week commencing March 5 and five in the week after that.
Anne O'Sullivan, regional official for University and College Union, said: "Nobody wants to take strike action but staff at these universities feel they have no choice.
"These hard-line proposals would slash staff pensions and are simply uncalled for.
"It is staggering the universities have refused to engage with the union and a real insult to staff and students."
Stuart Croft, vice-chancellor of University of Warwick, said: "We are days away from a period of industrial unrest which I strongly believe could have been avoided and, with goodwill on all sides, could still be avoided.
"I have been very public with my criticism of the pension valuation and the subsequent decision by Universities UK to advocate, what is in effect, closure of the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme scheme.
"I do not believe either party to the negotiations has exploited the full range of options which could have generated a meaningful pension for staff without jeopardising the financial future of the sector.
"I am calling for an early return to negotiations, with a more open and imaginative approach from both parties.
"A return to active negotiations with a real willingness by all sides to explore every option would enable deferral of industrial action until those avenues have been fully explored."
Aston University said in a statement: "We are doing everything we can to make sure this industrial action does not impact on our students' education.
"We respect the right of every member of staff to take strike action.
"We also, however, believe all our staff care about protecting students from disruption to their studies.
"We expect all participating staff to take appropriate measures to ensure our students continue to receive a first-class education during this time."