University staff boycott over pension row

Staff at Edinburgh University will take part in pensions action. Picture: JP

Staff at Edinburgh University will take part in pensions action. Picture: JP

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ACADEMICS at Scotland’s top universities are to stage a marking boycott, affecting thousands of students, in a pension row.

Staff at nine universities ­including Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Aberdeen will refuse to set course work, mark papers or provide feedback to students from 6 November until their ­demands are met, ­according to the University and ­College Union Scotland.

The move will also mean that any planned exams will be ­cancelled.

The lecturers have the support of the National Union of Students Scotland, while the move has been ­described as “damaging” by ­Universities UK (UUK).

The announcement comes after the UCU said that its members had backed industrial ­action.

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those who voted in the recent ballot supported strikes, while 87 per cent were in favour of action short of walkouts, which includes the boycott.

The union balloted members in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) at 69 institutions and turnout was 45 per cent.

The dispute focuses on changes to the pension scheme, which are understood to have been prompted by an expected deficit. UCU claims the process used to work out the deficit does not take into account the strengths of the scheme. But UUK said that the proposals offer the best ­possible deal.

Yesterday, UCU Scotland ­official Mary Senior said: “The ­employers have failed to ­convince UCU members of the need for their dramatic changes or the reasons behind the methodology for their deficit reduction plan.

“Members of the pension scheme have made it absolutely clear that they are unconvinced by the arguments the employers have made. We hope the ­employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations.”

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said: “Staff don’t vote for strike action in ­pursuit of grace-and-favour houses, ­lavish expenses or six-figure salaries, which are the perks enjoyed by university principals.

“Instead, they do so in ­response to an ­attack on their pensions, which they work ­extremely hard for.

“The possibility of strike ­action meaning classes being cancelled and students not being allowed to graduate or progress is a disgrace, but one that ­management will be responsible for by pushing ahead with these changes in the face of fierce 
opposition.”

A Universities UK spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the UCU has decided to pursue a damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education.

“Taking industrial action will not make the substantial scheme deficit and the risks to the future viability of the scheme go away.

“USS falls under the remit of the Pensions Regulator. It has to meet certain minimum levels of funding, a test which it currently fails to the tune of at least £8 billion.

“It is unavoidable that a recovery plan has to be agreed that would remove the deficit over a reasonable period.”

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