UNIVERSITY employers and union bosses are set to hold fresh talks amid a continuing row over pay.

The University and College Union (UCU) and a number of other trade unions have been running a campaign of industrial action, including national strikes, over a 1% pay rise offer made to university staff for 2013/14.

UCU earlier this week threatened a marking boycott, which it described as its "ultimate sanction", and which could leave students unable to graduate.

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The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said the 2013/14 pay rises, which it says averaged 3%, have already been paid and that pay negotiations for 2014/15 are due to start next month.

In a joint statement, UCU and UCEA said: "UCEA and UCU have agreed to investigate with the other parties ... the prospect of arranging exploratory talks. The purpose of the exploratory talks would be to seek an early positive dialogue on the key issues in the lead-up to the 2014/15 pay round."

"Other parties" in the dispute include three other unions - Unite, Unison and EIS in Scotland. It is understood the discussions will focus on the 2014/15 academic year pay offer.

Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), welcomed news of fresh talks. She said: "We now urgently need to see both sides knuckle down at these talks and quickly come to a fair and sustainable settlement."