Mr Mackney said he would give AUT general secretary David Triesman "a clear run" for the top job if the two unions were to merge. Official NATFHE policy is to develop a single union for all lecturers.
But Mr Mackney, who took over as leader of 66,000 college and university staff before Christmas, said closer co-operation between the two unions was a more likely short-term development. NATFHE is also holding talks with the National Union of Teachers over sharing services.
Mr Mackney met college employers for the first time last week, and is keen to exploit his new national role, as well as the Association of Colleges' "period of reflection" caused by the departure of Roger Ward.
Writing exclusively for The TES today, he said an end to the long-running feud between the union and employers in further education was possible.
Mackney and Dutton, page 34