Tens of thousands of university staff will go on strike for three days later this month.
More than 70,000 staff at 150 British universities will walk out in a dispute over pay, working conditions and pensions, the University and College Union (UCU) said.
The strikes, set to take place on November 24, 25 and 30, could affect up to 2.5 million students in what the union described as the biggest industrial action to ever hit the sector.
Disruption can be avoided, the union said, if employers make improved offers but it warned that action will escalate in the new year.
It has also threatened a marking and assessment boycott if the dispute is not resolved.
Union members will also begin industrial action short of strike action from November 23, which includes working to rule, refusing to make up work lost as a result of strike action and refusing to cover for absent colleagues.
The strikes come after UCU members overwhelmingly voted in favour of industrial action last month in two national ballots over pay and working conditions as well as pensions.
Jo Grady, the union's general secretary, said: "Campuses across the UK are about to experience strike action on a scale never seen before. 70,000 staff will walk out and make clear they refuse to accept falling pay, cuts to pensions and insecure employment.
"This is not a dispute about affordability - it is about choices. Vice-chancellors are choosing to pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds while forcing our members on to low paid and insecure contracts that leave some using foodbanks. They choose to hold billions in surpluses whilst slashing staff pensions.
"UCU members do not want to strike but are doing so to save the sector and win dignity at work. This dispute has the mass support of students because they know their learning conditions are our members' working conditions.
"If university vice-chancellors don't get serious, our message is simple - this bout of strike action will be just the beginning."
The UCU is calling for a "meaningful" pay rise to deal with the cost of living crisis and an end to the use of "insecure" contracts.
The union said employers imposed a 3% pay rise this year after more than a decade of below-inflation pay awards.
In the dispute over pensions, the UCU is demanding employers revoke a "package of cuts" made this year which it claims will mean the average union member loses 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income.