Members of the University and College Union in 67 universities will vote in the next few weeks on whether to launch a campaign of action in protest over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme for staff at the UK’s “old” universities and covers the most selective institutions, including those in the Russell Group.
The union warned that any industrial action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.
The UCU claimed “radical” pension changes put forward by employers have been prompted by an expected deficit in the USS scheme, but the union said the methodology used to determine the deficit was too simplistic.
Lecturers would see tens of thousands of pounds a year wiped off their pensions if proposals made by Universities UK (UUK) were introduced, according to research for the union.
Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Staff see their pensions as deferred pay and are understandably angry at the impact these proposals would have.
“We are making it very clear in this ballot that if members back industrial action, and there is no negotiated solution, we will be looking to quickly move to an assessment and exam boycott.
“We do not accept the way the scheme’s deficit is being valued or share the overly cautious and pessimistic view, which has prompted plans for deep cuts to pension provision. We want a solution that protects the pensions of staff and ensures the scheme remains attractive to new members of the profession.”
The union said the changes included ending the final salary pension scheme, starting an earnings cap of £40,000 above which benefits would not apply, while lecturers would have to pay more into the scheme.
Staff who had worked the longest and moved up their pay grade would be hit hardest by the changes, said the UCU.
Universities where lecturers will be balloted also include Aberystwyth, Bath, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Kent, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, Southampton, Swansea, Warwick, York and University College London.