University lecturers have been offered a 7.7% pay rise over two years, in an effort to avert strikes.
Lecturers had demanded a 28% wage rise
Under the University and Colleges Employers Association's (UCEA) proposals, the worst-paid would become up to 12.7% better off.
Members of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) had previously demanded 28% over three years.
They are calling for parity with secondary school teachers, who are currently better paid.
'Close to inflation'
Andy Pike, Natfhe's national officer for universities, said: "We will be taking a balanced view of the proposal.
"We are, however, concerned that the increase suggested for the second year will be 3%. This is dangerously close to inflation."
Natfhe executives will further discuss the proposals on July 29.
The AUT estimates that university staff have suffered a 40% drop in pay, compared with the rest of the UK's workforce, over the past 20 years.
A spokesman said: "This is a very complex package, not all of which is of benefit to our members.
"We will need to weigh up the implications carefully before our executive committee makes a decision next Monday."
Both unions have threatened strike action if their demands are not met.
Dr Geoffrey Copland, chairman of the UCEA board and vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster, said: "I am delighted that this major breakthrough has been achieved.
"The modernisation of pay structures in HE is long overdue. I believe that our new framework agreement will provide benefits for the whole sector - both staff and employers."
Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, added: "We welcome this significant development.
"Modernising pay structures has been a key goal for the sector and this provisional agreement is a positive step forward for us all."