Summer exams and graduation ceremonies may be disrupted if UK universities do not reach a resolution with their staff members, who will be going on strike starting this week.
Over a million students could be affected by this as lecturers and staff from 61 universities start their escalating 14-day strike action to protest against changes to their pension scheme, according to fresh warnings by Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union group.
UCU said that its mandate for strike action is valid for six months. If employers refuse to negotiate with staff, it has warned that they may target exams, admissions and graduations, The Guardian reported.
Hunt said: “We are keeping the channels of communication open. There is no sign they intend to shift.”
“There will be significant strike action from Thursday. It will be ongoing until we find a resolution.”
UCU’s higher education committee will decide early March whether to extend their industrial action into July, though this is a path that Hunt hoped they would not have to go down.
“They don’t deserve to be put in this position. I’m very upset for them, and I’m very sorry, but we don’t believe we have any choice any longer,” she said.
— UCU (@ucu) February 19, 2018
Hunt said employers are still “not talking” despite the impending action – the biggest British universities have ever seen – even if they are able to “do something” so the strikes do not hurt staff and students further.
Oxbridge, Bristol, Imperial College London, Durham, Warwick – some of the UK’s most prestigious institutions – will be affected as well.
“All I have seen so far is discussions that say they are going to try and dumb down some of the degree results as a mechanism for dealing with this now, by saying they won’t include questions in their exams on subjects that might or might not have been covered when action is being taken,” Hunt said, as quoted by The Independent.
“I think they have to think through that those exams might not be taking place if they don’t come back to the table.”
The strikes, which will start Thursday and spread over four weeks, is in protest against changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme, a plan that would reportedly make members GBP10,000 a year worse off, in retirement than under the current set-up. In total, they stand to lose about GBP200,000.
Negotiations between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) broke down late January when the chair sided with UUK’s plans to switch staffs’ guaranteed retirement income to a defined contribution scheme, where pension income is subject to changes in the stock market.
UUK said the changes were necessary to put the pension scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), on a sustainable footing for the long term.
“UUK met with UCU over 35 times during the last year in an attempt to find a joint solution to address this deficit and the significant rise in future pension costs. Unfortunately, the only proposal put forward by UCU would have led to unaffordable contributions for employees and employers,” a UUK spokesman said.
Students are asking their universities to refund them for the teaching hours lost to the protests. The UCU estimates undergraduates will lose around 575,000 teaching hours which will not be rescheduled.
A petition by a University of York student argued that students are entitled to GBP300 in refunds for “every student who loses contact time due to the upcoming strike action from the 22nd of February to the 16th of March 2018”.