Up to 2,000 academics a year will leave the UK unless universities raise wages, a union has warned.
A ballot on strike action closes next week
The Association of University Teachers said a "brain drain" to the US - where lecturers earn 42% more, according to its figures - was otherwise inevitable
The AUT's 47,000 members are currently taking part in a postal ballot on strike action over pay.
The union claims the average lecturer's salary has fallen by 40% in real terms since the early 1980s.
'Very strong case'
It also estimates the number of academics leaving for jobs in the EU and US has risen by more than 50% in the past five years.
AUT deputy general secretary Malcolm Keigh said: "I support any actions to prevent a further brain drain, particularly in the fields where we are world class.
"We believe we have made a very strong case to our members for industrial action.
"However, we are a democratic organisation and undoubtedly some members will have decided to vote against our strong recommendations."
According to the AUT, the average lecturer's starting wage is £23,000 a year.
Mr Keigh added: "If those who are against strike action win the day, we can anticipate that, in the very near future, around 2,000 academics will be leaving this country every year."
The ballot closes next Wednesday.