Members of the University and College Union have backed strikes at colleges accused of failing to implement a pay deal from four years ago. The walkouts are expected at the end of this month or early in February.
Among lecturers at 11 colleges who voted in the strike ballots, 69 per cent were in favour of a walk-out. The turnout was 38 per cent.
The strikes are intended to be the first wave of pressure on 90 colleges that have not introduced the simpler pay scales from 2004, which offered higher top salaries and faster progression to close the pay gap with schoolteachers. The UCU estimates that a mid-ranking lecturer might lose Pounds 4,500 a year from remaining on the older pay scales.
Barry Lovejoy said: "This vote clearly reflects the strength of feeling among our members, whose patience has finally run out after waiting four years for a promised pay rise.
"Other colleges that have failed to pay up should be warned this is just the beginning. Colleges have to understand that they will no longer be allowed to pay staff significantly below agreed national rates."
He said the union had been flexible with institutions in financial difficulty and colleges could avoid a strike by showing commitment to finding a way to implement the pay deal.
The ballots at the 11 colleges give the union a mandate for other industrial action beyond a strike at those institutions. Action, including strikes, at the remaining 79 colleges that have failed to implement the pay scales will require staff ballots at those institutions.
Indro Sen, a lecturer at the College of North West London and UCU branch secretary, estimated his members had each lost Pounds 10,000 over the past three years because his college used the old pay scales.
"Staff are very angry," he said. "We are not known for militancy. We work long hours and work an enormous amount of extra time. When we have a situation like this, we find it enormously difficult to make ends meet.
"We are asking for what was agreed to be implemented and then we will go back with renewed energy and enthusiasm."
But many colleges selected for this round of strikes felt they were being unfairly targeted, with too little regard for the specific local conditions they had to work under.
The College of North West London, for instance, has argued that it pays inner London rates despite only being funded as an outer London college, although the union says this does not compensate for the outdated pay scales.
Lyn Surgeon, principal of Nelson and Colne College in Lancashire, estimated it had implemented 90 per cent of the deal and said the union seemed not to be taking into account differences between other terms and conditions colleges offered to staff, such as working hours and holiday.
"I am very disappointed that the college has been targeted for possible industrial action," she said.
"We have done all we can to implement the modernising pay recommendations proposed between 2003 and 2005 and implemented the nationally recommended pay increase each year since 2003 - on occasions bettering it.
"I am very concerned at any action that threatens the progression of our students. The college has been judged outstanding by Ofsted twice in the past four years, and our terms and conditions are more favourable than many other institutions."
The Association of Colleges maintains its position that it negotiates a recommended pay award and it is up to colleges whether it is then implemented.
WALKOUTS OVER PAY
Nelson and Colne College in Lancashire, Croydon College, Greenwich Community College, College of North West London, Doncaster College, Dearne Valley College in Rotherham, Rotherham College of Arts and Technology, Evesham and Malvern Hills College, Sandwell College in West Midlands, Sussex Downs College, Askham Bryan College in York.