The UK’s higher education sector could be brought to ‘a complete standstill’ this term after university staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
More than 70,000 staff at 150 universities could now walkout following two national ballots on pay, working conditions and pensions, after more than 80% of University and College Union (UCU) members who voted said yes to strike action.
The UCU labelled the result a ‘stunning’ victory, calling on vice-chancellors to urgently negotiate improved offers if they want to avoid widespread disruption on campuses across the country.
The result means the UCU is the only union in the education sector to secure a national mandate for industrial action since new trade union legislation was enacted in 2016, although other teaching unions are currently balloting their members on strike action, meaning schools and colleges could also face walkouts.
The UCU’s higher education committee will now meet on November 3rd to decide the next steps, with the union saying the result shows the anger felt by staff who were offered a 3% pay rise while inflation soars.
Other key concerns are that a third of academic staff are on temporary contracts and that pensions have seen huge cuts after a number of employers implemented changes that would see the guaranteed retirement income of the average member slashed by 35%.
A spokesperson for the higher education regulatory body in England, the Office for Students, said: “We are very concerned about the potential impact of these strikes on students. It cannot be right that students face further disruption to their studies, and we would urge the employers and trade unions to work quickly so that any industrial dispute does not materially affect students.”
Raj Jethwa, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: “While threatening industrial action will not create new money for the sector, UCEA and its member HE institutions want to work with UCU and other trade unions to support staff and students and to avoid disruptive industrial action. However, there needs to be a realistic assessment of what is possible.”
A spokesperson for Universities UK, on behalf of employers locked in dispute over the universities superannuation scheme, the pension scheme for academics, added: “Universities will put in place a series of measures to minimise the impact of any industrial action on students, other staff and the wider community.”
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