Lecturers' unions have expressed disappointment after the latest talks in their pay dispute with employers failed to lead to formal negotiations.
Lecturers held a one-day strike and are boycotting students' exams
The Association of University Teachers (AUT) and other main lecturers' union, Natfhe, did welcome the employers' "admission" a new offer was needed.
Union members are refusing to mark work or take part in appraisals.
The employers said they were "surprised" lecturers continued to risk "long-term damage to students".
The unions have rejected as "derisory" the employers' offer of 3% from August this year and an extra 3% from August 2007.
The latest meeting between the unions and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) was facilitated by conciliation service Acas, and followed similar talks on Friday.
In a joint statement, Natfhe and the AUT said they were "disappointed" the discussions had "not resulted in the commencement of formal pay negotiations due to the refusal of UCEA to meet the unions and make a pay offer unless the industrial action is suspended".
However, they went on: "The unions welcomed UCEA's acknowledgement that the existing 6%, two-year pay offer would need to be improved and that they would also be willing to explore a three-year pay deal.
"The unions clearly stated that once UCEA are able to remove preconditions to negotiations taking place, and make an acceptable pay offer that addresses the unions' pay claim, both Natfhe and AUT will take steps to begin consulting on that offer immediately."
But UCEA chief executive Jocelyn Prudence said the acknowledgement that an improved deal was needed should have prompted an end to the action being taken by lecturers.
She said: "We were very surprised that despite the employers' making clear our readiness to improve on the 6% offer previously tabled and our willingness to be flexible on negotiating arrangements, the AUT and Natfhe refused the opportunity to avoid risk of long-term damage to students."
Geoffrey Copland, who chairs the UCEA, said he believed an agreement could be reached "on a settlement which is acceptable to both sides, well before pay increases are due in August".
As well as boycotting the marking of exams, AUT members are also not setting them.
Students want exams set
On Wednesday the National Union of Students repeated its call for an end to this tactic.
NUS president Kat Fletcher said the union stood firmly by its decision to back both academics' unions in their call for better pay.
"However, we want to once again raise our concerns about the decision taken by AUT not to set exams as part of this industrial action," she said.
"I have raised this matter with them on a number of occasions, and now strongly urge them to reconsider this tactic.
"NUS believes that this will have a potentially long term effect on students and could significantly hinder students' progression or graduation."