Universities not paying the living wage to their employees will be named and shamed by unions in a bid to encourage all institutions to solve an "inherent injustice".
The National Union of Students (NUT) and trade union Unison are working together on a campaign to persuade all colleges, universities and students' unions, including private contractors on campuses, to pay the wage to all their employees.
The Association of Colleges previously set out the minimum rate for employees in the Further Education sector and agreed it should be the set at the living wage, which currently stands at £7.20 outside London and £8.30 in the capital. It is calculated according to the cost of living and provides the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with essentials.
But many further education institutions are not paying their employees the minimum rate.
Those who have the biggest gap between their highest and lowest paid members of staff will be named and shamed in a "league table" of worst offenders, which will be created by the two unions.
As part of the initiative, launched at Unison's Higher Education conference in Brighton, institutions who agree to pay the living wage will be awarded a "kite mark":
Research conducted by Unison and the NUT found the average earnings for a vice-chancellor in the year 2009-10 was more than £218,000, while an employee on the minimum wage working a 40-hour-week was just £12,334.
Local union officials estimate more than 1,000 employees at Cambridge University receive less than the living wage, whereas the vice-chancellor earns £249,000 a year.
NUS vice-president, Dannie Grufferty, described a vice-chancellor being paid more than 17 times the wage of an employee on their campus an "inherent injustice".
“Colleges and universities are a community, and everyone within that community needs to be treated with dignity - and that means paying them a wage they can live on for their work," he said.
“The difference between minimum wage and a living wage is the difference between constant money worries and being able to make ends meet. It also makes sense for employers who’ll see a rise in productivity and greater retention of staff.
“Employers at colleges and universities have six-months to get their house in order before we name and shame those that allow such shocking disparities to continue.”
Stephanie Green, a contracted-out shop supervisor at the Isle of Wight College said she earns "well under the £7.20 hourly rate".
The married mother-of-one says it is hard to make ends meet.
"Things are a real struggle and I do feel a little resentment at being treated differently to others working in the college, as surely we are all on the same team working for the students and staff alike."
Meanwhile, Colette and Kevin Gorton, estate officers at Hugh Baird College, Merseyside, were given a pay rise after the college implemented living wage in the national FE pay deal.
"The wage increase has made a big difference to us," Colette explained. "We are able to pay bills without the usual worry of where the money is coming from. If we can keep this wage increase life would be a lot easier for us just on a day to day basis."