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UK universities lecturers and staff strike: What you need to know

Lecturers at some UK universities walked out on 22 February, and strike action will continue intermittently until 16 March. This industrial action will affect all international students at the named institutions (a full list can be found at the end of this article).

Staff and students alike brave the cold to march through London in protest.Staff and students alike braved the cold to march through London in protest. Photo: Flickr/ Julian Stallabrass

The Union says employers want pensions to depend on the performance of investments rather than contributions

The strike will continue on March 5, 6, 7 & 8, and will end with a full week of strikes from March 12-16.

UCU members are partaking in the series of strike over changes to their USS pension scheme.

The USS scheme has a deficit of £6.1 billion and the cost of future pensions has increased”

The union, which represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, staff and postgraduates in British universities and colleges, says it is striking in protest against employers wanting to end guaranteed pension benefits.

It states that employers want pensions to depend on the performance of investments rather than employees contributions.

The walk out also involves action short of a strike where it asks members to work to contract, not cover for absent colleagues, reschedule cancelled lectures and classes or undertake voluntary activities.

Negotiations have been ongoing for at least 12 months, between the UCU and the British universities body UUK, regarding this pensions impasse.

The Joint Negotiating Committee reached a decision on reforms in January, but this was not enough to dissuade the union from taking action.

A UUK spokesperson told The PIE News the USS scheme has an increasingly large deficit, and change is needed.

“The USS pension scheme has a deficit of £6.1 billion and the cost of future pensions benefits has increased by one third since 2014. To maintain current benefits overall contributions would have to increase by approximately £1 billion every year. We hope that employees recognise that changes are necessary to put the scheme on a secure footing, and that the proposed strike action will only serve to unfairly disrupt students’ education,” they said.

Universities are committed to making pensions contributions of 18% of salaries. This allows them to continue to offer attractive and sustainable pensions to their employees under the proposed changes to USS,” the spokesperson added. 

“NUS is worried that the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce”

Students have voiced fears over the possible effects of the industrial action, with some worried that degrees may be affected if exams and assessments are affected.

In a joint statement with the UCU, National Union of Students president Shakira Martin said the students’ union stood alongside lecturers and staff.

“As representatives of students, NUS is worried that the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and consequent recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere,” the statement read.

UUK have attempted to reassure students that HEIs should have practices in place to avoid this, and students should not worry.

It has also specifically addressed international students, saying although contact points may be cancelled during this time, universities should communicate this to visa authorities and “The strike action should not negatively impact your visa status”.

According to sources, however, The PIE understands that some international students have been seen attempting to attend cancelled classes during the strike. It is not clear whether such students understand the strike action, or the implications to their immigration status.

On Thursday, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge Stephen Toope,  released a statement asking for both sides to return to the negotiating table, declaring that “The current situation cannot go on.”

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, responded by welcoming Toope’s comments.

“Professor Toope is right to say things cannot go on as they are. We would argue they never should have been allowed to get this far in the first place. It is important we all move forward to Monday’s talks looking to resolve this dispute,” she said.

Unions across the world have sent messages of support. These unions include the German Education Union, ATE CONICET in Argentina, Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters in the US, Canadian Association of University Teachers and National Tertiary Education Union in Australia.

 

Full list of universities affected by industrial action

Aberdeen, University of
Aberystwyth University
Aston University
Bangor University
Bath, University of
Birkbeck College, University of London
Bristol, University of
Brunel University
Cambridge, University of
Cardiff University
City, University of London
Courtauld Institute of Art
Cranfield University
Dundee, University of
Durham University
East Anglia, University of
Edinburgh, University of
Essex, University of
Exeter, University of
Glasgow, University of
Goldsmiths, University of London
Heriot-Watt University
Hull, University of
Imperial College London
Institute of Education
Keele University
Kent, University of
King’s College London
Lancaster, University of
Leeds, University of
Leicester, University of
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Liverpool, University of
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Loughborough University
Manchester, University of
Newcastle University
Nottingham, University of
Open University
Oxford, University of
Queen Mary, University of London
Queen’s University Belfast
Reading, University of
Royal Holloway, University of London
Royal Veterinary College, University of London
Salford, University of
Senate House, University of London
Sheffield, University of
SOAS, University of London
Southampton, University of
St Andrews, University of
Stirling, University of
Strathclyde, University of
Surrey, University of
Sussex, University of
University College London
Scottish Association for Marine Science at University of the Highlands and Islands
Ulster University
University of Wales
University of Warwick
University of York

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