64 universities throughout the UK have commenced strike action over plans to change their pension scheme.  The strike is the first of 14 days of industrial action over four weeks.

Employers’ group Universities UK (UUK) claim the changes are essential as the scheme is running at a deficit, however lecturers who have paid into the scheme are angry and say they will receive a less generous pension when they retire.

The scheme is the UK’s largest in terms of assets, which are valued at £60bn.

Despite over 1 million students being affected, a YouGov poll carried out on the eve of the strike found that:

  • Overall, three-fifths of students (61%) said they supported the strikes
  • Support was stronger in universities affected by the strikes (66% from students in striking universities compared with 58% from those in non-striking universities)
  • Half of students (50%) blamed the university employers for the dispute that is leading to strike action
  • Just 2% of students said they blamed university staff for the strikes. One in five (20%) said staff and universities were equally to blame
  • Only one in 20 (5%) said they disagreed with calls for both sides to return to the negotiating table

The universities’ representatives – Universities UK – are seeking to push through the changes and have refused to negotiate with UCU. The union says this has left it with no alternative but to strike. In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action. The turnout was 58%.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said:

‘We deliberately announced these strike dates to give universities time to come back round the table with us and get this mess sorted out. They have refused to do so and want to impose their reforms on staff. Unsurprisingly staff are angry and significant disruption on campuses across the UK now looks inevitable.

‘The key is how universities react to the action this week. We will be meeting on 2 March to consider what wave two of the action may need to involve and nothing is off the table. We doubt any universities want a prolonged dispute that carries on towards exam season and would urge vice-chancellors to put pressure on Universities UK to get back round the table with us.’