Universities to strike over pension changes

Fewer students from poorer areas apply for university. Pic: Shutter Stock
Fewer students from poorer areas apply for university. Pic: Shutter Stock
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Staff at universities across Scotland are set to hold 14 days of strike action starting next month in a row over pensions.

The University and College Union (UCU) said walkouts at 61 universities UK-wide will start on 22 February, beginning with a five-day walk-out weekend.

Universities taking part north of the border are - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Stirling, Heriot-Watt, Dundee, Strathclyde and the Scottish association for marine science at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge as well as the Open University, are amongst those also taking part.

The action includes four days of strikes from Monday 5 – Thursday 8 March and a full five-day walkout the following week (12 – 16 March).

The dispute centres on plans to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from a defined benefit scheme, where staff have a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme - meaning their pensions would be subject to changes in the investment markets.

The union says the changes would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

Universities UK (UUK), the employers’ organisation, maintains that changes to its pension scheme are necessary.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said staff action on such a wide scale had never taken place across the UK and urged employers to deal with the union’s complaints.

“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 staff.’ Ms 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.”

A spokesman for UUK said: “Changes to USS pensions have been agreed by the joint negotiating committee.

“That decision is a necessary step, made in the best interests of university staff, to put USS on a sustainable footing for the long-term.

“The scheme will continue to offer attractive pensions through market-leading defined contribution benefits.”

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88 per cent of members who voted backed strike action and 93 per cent backed action short of a strike. The turnout was 58 per cent.

A further seven universities in England and Wales failed to meet the government’s new 50 per cent turnout requirement for action to be allowed. They are being balloted again for strike action with ballots closing on 16 February.

If they vote for strike action again, and at least 50 per cent participate in the vote, they could join the action from 5 March.