Lecturers and other university staff have organised a week of strikes around the UK.
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff
They are protesting over pay, re-grading of jobs and plans to allow individual universities to decide salaries, rather than the current national system.
Helen Loney says her profession is being devalued
Helen Loney, an archaeologist at Glasgow University, is one of those set to take part in the action, organised by the Association of University Teachers (AUT).
Having trained in the US for 15 years and worked as a lecturer for seven years, she said: "To get us out on strike is extraordinary. We don't like to mess the students about. We feel they are powerless in this.
"It shows we are in a state of extreme annoyance. We feel that it is a privilege to do our job, but we have been forced into this."
The AUT's strike action follows a drawn-out dispute with employers, who have proposed a pay rise of 6.44% over two years.
Lecturers say their wages have fallen by 40% relative to those of other workers since the early 1980s.
Dr Loney said: "We don't get paid as well as teachers. I've nothing against teachers getting paid well, but we should get the same. We do as much work or more.
"We have also noticed that vice-chancellors and other senior staff are giving themselves hefty pay rises. It's a point of principle.
"Working conditions aren't easy. We don't have summer vacations like teachers. For us, it's the main time of the year for carrying out research.
"Right now people are quite depressed. We come in on a relatively low salary. This makes it difficult to do things like buy a house and generally get on with life."
The government's attempts to expand higher education have not helped morale, according to Dr Loney.
"We are doing more and more administration. The increased number of students has added to that.
"There used to be 20 or 30 doing archaeology in a year. These days it's about three times that.
"This requires a lot more time. We are expected to carry out tasks like booking minibuses for field trips or writing letters.
"We tend to do whatever tasks there are. It makes no sense paying me and my colleagues a lecturer's wage to do photocopying."
She added: "A lot of the older lecturers regret the increasing number of students.
"It becomes impossible to know who they are. It can be humiliating, because you should know the names of the people you are teaching.
"We try our best to do keep up face-to-face contact, which takes lots of time, but we get no credit in terms of pay for our efforts."
Dr Loney fears proposed changes to the way universities are run could damage lecturers' professional standing and future pay.
"We are concerned about the restructuring of pay-bargaining. Some lecturers are being graded as technician level, which will cost them in the long run.
"The employers are also trying to break up national pay-bargaining. Academics already move around universities fairly regularly: it's part of our freedom.
"If you break up the national system, some universities will start paying much less than others. So, people won't want to go there and you will ghettoise institutions. We would definitely not like to see that.
"We feel that we've done all the work to develop and improve universities and it seems this could be undone.
"We've taken on lots more students without any more resources and done it without complaining, but not any more."