Members of the University and College Union have voted for strike action next Thursday over plans to increase staff contributions and cut benefits to the teachers' pension scheme.
About three quarters of voters backed a strike, in opposition to plans that will cost members 50 per cent more in contributions over three years. About 60,000 UCU members in colleges and new universities would be affected.
The decision comes as Lord Hutton published his review of public sector pensions, which recommended that teachers should receive payments based on their average career earnings rather than final salary.
UCU is the first of the unions to hold a ballot, although schoolteacher unions say they are united in their determination to protect pension benefits.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers - which represents 160,000 staff in schools and colleges and includes the Association for Managers in Education, representing FE management - has also confirmed it is preparing a ballot.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Staff are sick to the back teeth of being told that hard-won pensions benefits need to be cut to pay for an economic crisis created by others. The average lecturer faces a pound;90 increase in costs per month in exchange for reduced benefits."
Unions are particularly angered by the decision to announce changes before an up-to-date valuation of the scheme has been carried out.
UCU said that the changes risk deterring new starters from joining the pension scheme, which could jeopardise its future viability.
The strike will coincide with the second day of industrial action on pensions by teaching staff in universities, who face similar cuts.