MORE than 40 students from Edinburgh University held a sit-in at the office of the institution's finance director in support of a UK-wide protest by lecturers over pay.

Members of the Edinburgh University Anti-Cuts Coalition group, including one wearing a giant panda head, occupied the office while others protested outside.

The peaceful demonstration came as university staff across the UK are set to go on strike today claiming their pay - which is negotiated nationally rather than by individual institutions - has fallen by some 13% in real terms over the past four years.

Lecturers and support staff will be on picket lines from 7.30am at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen, St Andrews and Dundee universities, while there will also be rallies in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Dave Anderson, president of the UCU Scotland union, which represents university staff, said: "Staff in universities across Scotland are taking strike action tomorrow to say enough is enough.

"They have seen their pay slashed in real terms since 2009 and this year's miserly pay offer of 1% at a time of rising bills was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Staff love their jobs, but their goodwill cannot continue to be taken for granted.

"Nobody wants to take strike action and lose a day's pay, but we feel we have been left with no alternative."

Gordon Maloney, President of student body NUS Scotland, backed the action.

"We continue to strongly back higher education union members' request for a reasonable pay rise and urges universities to offer fresh proposals," he said.

Kirsty Haigh, vice-president of Edinburgh University Students' Association, which staged the sit-in, added: "Edinburgh University and the university sector generally has plenty of money.

"We see this every day with millions going on vanity projects and senior managers' pay."

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which negotiates pay on a UK wide basis, said: "The 1% offer has been made at a time when the UK higher education sector continues to face considerable financial uncertainties.

"Meeting the trade unions' pay claim of 7% would cost the sector in the region of £1bn. We hope trade union members will consider the wider situation facing their institution, their sector and their students as they decide on the most appropriate course of action."

Meanwhile, Professor Anton Muscatelli, principal of Glasgow University, has written to students reassuring them that graduation ceremonies on Tuesday will go ahead as planned.

He said: "Some of the trades unions have indicated they intend to take strike action in a UK wide dispute over pay."

"We would like to assure you that we have spoken with the trade unions involved at a local level and that the proposed action will have no impact on the graduation ceremony, which will proceed as planned.

"We wanted to let you know this as there may be some trade union presence at the entrance to the university when you and your party arrive."