STUDENTS across the UK were on picket lines yesterday supporting their lecturers and support staff on the first day of their eight-day strike action across 60 universities.
Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are taking action in two separate disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and conditions.
In addition to striking, union members will begin other forms of industrial action when they return to work, including working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost during the strikes.
Staff taking action will walk out between 25 November and 4 December and the union has not ruled out further action next term.
UCU says staff have reached ‘breaking point’ over a number of issues, including workloads, real-terms cuts in pay, a 15% gender pay gap and changes to pensions for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the union says will leave members paying in more and receiving less in retirement.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said about 43,600 members would be taking strike action for ‘systemic change’.
Grady said the higher education sector had ‘made a lot of money over the past 10 years’ but that spending on staff in that period had gone down and that there had been ‘an attack on working conditions in the sector’.
The UCU is angry that members are now having to pay 9.6% in pension contributions, up from 8% and wants universities to pay the full increase instead.
The union estimates that, overall, changes to the pension could leave lecturers about £240,000 worse off in retirement, rising to £730,000 for professors.
At London’s City University Dr Claire Marris said: ‘I’m going on strike because I really care about the education that we deliver to our students and I feel our working conditions are being eroded.
‘By giving us less money and expecting us to do more and more work, they’re making it really hard for us to deliver the quality education and the quality research which we want to do and that we want to contribute to society.
‘I want parents out there who are paying the fees for their children to know that 50% of the staff in universities today are casual staff, they are on short-term contracts, they are on hourly contracts and yet that’s the money they are paying those fees for and I think that money should be invested in staff.’