Lectures across the country will be cancelled as staff walk out in protest at a pay increase offer of 1% for 2013/14.
The national strike will be undertaken by the main three university unions – the University and College Union, Unison and Unite – and will affect 165 institutions.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents universities as employers, said it was disappointed by the move.
It is the first joint strike by the unions, which said members have suffered pay cuts of 13% in real terms since 2008.
They complain university leaders had average pay increases of more than £5,000 in 2011-12, with vice-chancellors' average pay and pensions packages nearly £250,000.
Unions said their members need a "substantial" pay rise to retain the dedicated staff to keep Britain in the top 10-world university league.
Unite national officer for education Mike McCartney said: "Our members are taking this action with a heavy heart, but they have endured a five-year pay drought.
"We are calling for the employers to get around the table urgently so that our members contribution to the prestige and reputation of higher education is recognised."
The UCEA said 40% of staff are due to receive annual incremental pay increases that would give some workers rises of 4%.
It added that university staff understood surpluses were essential for capital funding and other areas, including updating IT systems.
A spokesman said: "The vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and would not want to take action that could harm their institutions and their students."