The University and College Union (UCU) said members will stage strikes at UK universities on May 25 and 26.
Further industrial action will see staff working to contract from this point, which includes refusing to work overtime, set additional work or undertake voluntary tasks such as covering for colleagues.
The move is likely to cause disruption on campuses around the country.
The dispute has arisen following a pay offer of 1.1 per cent from the employer body, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), which the union has described as ‘an insult’.
The union said institutions “could afford to pay more” and that the latest offer does little to address the real terms pay cut of 14.5 per cent suffered by higher education staff since 2009.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: “Members in higher education have sent a clear message to employers that, after six years of real-terms pay cuts amounting to 14.5 per cent, they will not tolerate a continued squeeze on their income.
“Industrial action which impacts on students is never taken lightly, but staff feel that they have been left with no alternative.
“A 1.1 per cent offer is an insult to the hard work and dedication of higher education staff, particularly in light of the 3 per cent average pay rise enjoyed by vice-chancellors this year.
“The ball is now in UCEA’s court, but the employers need to come back to the table with a much improved offer if they wish to avoid significant disruption to students in the coming months.”
The last time lecturers went on strike it was over paying conditions two years ago.
Around 60,000 staff in higher education have been balloted this time around so it could be anything up to that.
The walkouts are still pending negotiations so they could be cancelled if they reach an agreement.
A UCEA spokesman said: “Planning for any form of industrial action is disappointing for Higher Education (HE) institutions with one trade union on a path to try and cause disruption. The vast majority of staff in HE institutions understand the reality of the current environment and do not support action that could harm both their institutions and their students.
“A strike, following a properly conducted ballot, is entirely lawful but withdrawing labour is a breach of contract leaving HE institutions with no choice but to deduct full pay from any member of staff taking strike action. UCEA and the HE institutions are dismayed that the UCU has targeted students from the very outset of pay discussions.”