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Over a million students at 68 universities to be impacted by up to 10 days of campus walkouts starting in February

27 January 2022

University staff are set to walk out for up to 10 days of strike action in two disputes over pensions and pay & working conditions.

The union has labelled the strikes a 'fight for the future of higher education' with staff at 'breaking point' after a decade of cuts to pensions, falling pay and worsening working conditions. Over 50,000 university staff are expected to walkout with over one million students set to be impacted.

In pensions, proposals from employers mean staff face a 35% cut to their guaranteed retirement income. The pay and working conditions dispute is over a 20% real term pay cut over the past 12 years, unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of exploitative and insecure contracts, which are rife across the sector.

In total 68 UK universities will be hit with strike action in February..

The full strike dates, with numbers of institutions involved, are:

  • week 1 (USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions): 5 days; Monday 14 to Friday 18 February
  • week 2 (both the pension and the pay & working conditions dispute, 68 institutions): 2 days; Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February
  • week 3 (pay & working conditions dispute only, 63 institutions): 3 days; Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 March

Further industrial action is also on the cards, including:

  • rolling regional and UK wide action in pay & working conditions: dates to be confirmed
  • preparations made for UK wide marking and assessment boycott.

The final day of strike action in week 3 has been called to coincide with the student strike on Wednesday 2 March, organised by the NUS. The NUS is calling for higher and further education to be free at the point of use for students and for staff to get better working conditions, pay and pensions.

Yesterday, UCU shared proposals that could avert the pension strike, which come after the scheme's assets jumped to more than £92bn. The union is meeting with employer representatives, Universities UK (UUK), on Friday 11 February. To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts to staff pensions and formally accept UCU's counter proposals.

To resolve the pay & working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts.

In December 2021, staff at 58 universities took three days of strike action, and following a successful reballot over Christmas staff, ten more universities voted to join this wave of strikes.

The most recently published university finances, from 2019/20, show total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn. This week, record levels of students were shown to be studying at UK universities, with enrolments rising by 9% this year.  However, many university staff struggle to get by, with 90,000 academic and professional support staff employed on insecure contracts.

Staff at institutions impacted by strike action are also taking ongoing industrial action short of strike. This includes working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is a damning indictment of the way our universities are managed that staff are being left with no option but to walk out again. For a sector that is worth tens of billions of pounds and enjoys record levels of student growth it is beyond disgraceful that in return staff get vicious pension cuts, falling pay and are pushed to breaking point under deteriorating working conditions.

'Time is quickly running out for vice chancellors to avert strike action, but it can be done. Staff need a proper pay rise, action to tackle insecure contracts, unsafe workloads and pay inequality, and for devastating pension cuts to be revoked. Any disruption that occurs will be the clearest indication yet that university bosses don't value their staff.

'This wave of strike action is a fight for the future of higher education and staff are proud to stand alongside students in the fight for an education system that treats students and staff with respect.'

NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said: 'Students' unions and student organisers have a proud tradition of standing in solidarity with staff, and we saw this in action up and down the country in December.

'As students, we are acutely aware that staff working conditions are our learning conditions. The same education system that forces students into food banks exploits staff on insecure contracts, with some even having to sleep in tents while they mark our essays. The same system that produces awarding gaps that impact students of colour produces pay gaps that impact staff of colour.

'We will continue to stand with staff in their struggles because nothing about this broken system is inevitable. At NUS, we're calling on students to walk out of the education that doesn't work for any of us on March 2, and come together to re-imagine a new vision for education.'

Last updated: 28 January 2022