The largest lecturers' union is planning a simultaneous strike over pay with the largest schoolteachers' union for the first time.
Balloting of University and College Union (UCU) members for the planned strike on April 24 was due to begin today, with officials arguing that colleges are dragging their heels over pay negotiations.
The union wants a pay increase of 6 per cent, or pound;1,500 per person, whichever is the greater - a claim that colleges have described as "ambitious".
The Association of Colleges (AoC) is not due to meet unions to discuss the pay claim until May.
Co-ordinated strike action with the National Union of Teachers is the first result of the two unions' closer relationship following the launch of a joint campaign earlier this month, called "Our schools, our colleges, our communities".
It intends to highlight the detrimental influence of private business in both parts of the education system, whether it is through increasing competition with private training companies in further education or by opening business-owned academies in the schools system.
Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at UCU, said: "I think this is the first time a co-ordinated strike has happened and we hope it will make people think about what's going on in education.
"We are sending a signal of our determination and expressing the feelings of members that there is a fresh impetus on pay."
He said that as colleges push for greater responsibility and more self- regulation in FE, they should also agree that negotiations on pay should be binding on members, ending the situation in recent years in which pay rises agreed centrally have not been paid to all lecturers.
Sue Dutton, acting chief executive of the AoC, said the union was rushing into a ballot for industrial action.
She said: "We are disappointed that UCU has decided to ballot its members on strike action at this time, with a view to future industrial action, before formal discussions in the joint national forum have even begun. This is an agreed negotiations timetable. We have yet to issue a formal offer for the 20089 pay round."