Massive strikes set for UK's major universities
The strikes will take place over a 4-week period. Source: Shutterstock

The University and College Union has announced that its members at 61 universities will go ahead with 14 days of escalating strike action over a four-week period.

The industrial action is in protest against changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme, a plan that would reportedly make members  £10,000 a year worse off, in retirement than under the current set-up.

The strike will start with a two-day walkout on 22 and 23 February. The days will continue to increase to strikes of three, four and five days in subsequent weeks (26-28 February, 5-8 March and 12-16 March).

“Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff,” UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

Staff at the University of Stirling, University of Edinburgh, Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London will not participate in the first two days of strike due to their reading week date. Their walkout will take place on 19 and 20 March instead.

Last week, negotiations broke down between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) 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.

Hunt said last Tuesday: “Staff will feel utterly betrayed by their leaders. We are disappointed at how talks ended today, particularly after UUK suggested yesterday that it wanted more talks to avoid strikes. Universities must be on notice that unless there are dramatic changes in their negotiators’ position then strike action will be arriving on campus next month.”

“There is much talk of a crisis of leadership in higher education at the moment, especially after the recent vice-chancellor pay and perks scandals. Now is the time for university leaders to recognise the scale of this problem, how angry their staff are and to work with us to avoid widespread disruption in universities.”

In a tweet, Elizabeth Oakley-Brown, a senior lecturer at Lancaster University, said their strikes come with “emotional (and an economic)” costs. She urged students to speak to their respective lecturers to find out why they are striking.

“We want to teach and research but employment rights – for all in HE – are being eroded. Strike action is a last resort,” she wrote.

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