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Universities to be hit with three days of strikes in December

16 November 2021

58 universities will be hit with three days of strike action from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

Earlier this  month UCU members backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay & working conditions.

In the pension ballot, 76% of UCU members who voted backed strike action and 88% voted in favour of action short of strike. In the pay & working conditions ballot more than seven in 10 members who voted (70.1%) backed strike action with 85% (84.9%) voting for action short of strike. The National Union of Students (NUS) is backing staff who are taking industrial action.

The overall turnout on the pension ballot was 53% and on pay & conditions it was 51%. Ballots were disaggregated and 58 branches secured a mandate for strike action. UCU called on university bosses to urgently start negotiating to avoid disruption across UK campuses before Christmas. The disputes are over cuts of 35% to guaranteed pensions, pay cuts, casualisation, equality pay gaps and unsafe workloads.

Last week UCU wrote to employer representatives, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, setting out how university bosses could avoid strike action before Christmas. The union is asking for pension cuts to be revoked; and for employers to improve their pay offer and commit to meaningful agreements and action on casualisation, workload, and equality pay gaps. But employers are currently refusing to revoke pension cuts or to even acknowledge issues like casualisation.

Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers; one third of academic staff are on insecure contracts; the gender pay gap sits at 15% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, under a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black; staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.

As well as the three day walkout, staff at 64 universities have a mandate to take action short of strike [NOTE 2]. This will also begin on Wednesday 1 December and will include strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties. This is set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for.

UCU also intends to reballot a number of branches that missed the 50% turnout threshold imposed by Tory anti-trade union laws. The union said the three day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.

The union intends to escalate its disputes next term. If employers do not make improved offers, further industrial action is likely to continue into the spring, at which point branches that gain a mandate in their reballots will be able to join the action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.

'UCU has repeatedly asked employers to meet with us to try to resolve these disputes. But while we set out pragmatic solutions that could halt widespread disruption to UK campuses, university bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualisation and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education. 

'A resolution to this dispute is simple. But if employers remain intent on slashing pensions and exploiting staff who have kept this sector afloat during a pandemic then campuses will face strike action before Christmas, which will escalate into spring with reballots and further industrial action.'

National Union of Students national president Larissa Kennedy said: 'Students have a rich history of standing shoulder to shoulder with university staff, who have seen their pensions, pay and conditions slashed in recent years. With vice chancellors' average total pay packets rising to £269,000 per year, it's clear employers can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms since 2009. Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and we mustn't forget many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking. The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run.'

A recent report by the Office for Students shows total remuneration for vice chancellor's averages £269k.



[1] 33 institutions will see strikes over both pay and pensions:

Aston University


Birkbeck, University of London


Durham University


Goldsmiths, University of London


Heriot-Watt University


Keele University


King's College London


London School of Economics


London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


Loughborough University


Open University


Royal Holloway, University of London


SOAS, University of London


The University of Birmingham


The University of Dundee


The University of Kent


The University of Leeds


The University of Nottingham


The University of Sheffield


The University of Stirling


University of Bradford


University of Bristol


University of Cambridge


University of Edinburgh


University of Essex


University of Glasgow


University of Lancaster


University of Liverpool


University of St Andrews


University of Sussex


University of York


Queens University Belfast


University of Ulster


21 will see strikes over pay only:

Courtauld Institute of Art

Edinburgh Napier University

Glasgow School of Art

Greenwich University

Kingston University

Liverpool Hope University

Manchester Metropolitan University

Queen Margaret University

Roehampton University

Royal College of Art

Royal Northern College of Music

Sheffield Hallam University

The University of Manchester

The University of Northampton

The University of Salford

University of the Arts London

University College London

University of Brighton

University of Central Lancashire

University of Chester

University of Leicester

Four will see strikes over pensions only:

Institute of Development Studies
Imperial College London
University of Bath
University of Reading

[2] Six institutions will see action short of strike over pay:

Bishop Grosseteste University
Bournemouth University
Leeds Trinity University
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts
St Mary's University College Belfast
University of Winchester

Last updated: 16 November 2021