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Third wave of UK wide university strikes begins today with five-day walkout

21 March 2022

Over 50,000 staff at 67 universities are taking five consecutive days of strike action over the next two weeks, beginning today as UCU members at 38 universities walk out over cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and conditions.

Two more universities begin their action on Wednesday and staff at 27 further universities start their walk out next week. Over a million students will be impacted.

Due to the nature of its teaching model, which includes weekends, staff at the Open University will be taking seven days of strike action.

This is the third round of strike action of the academic year. Staff recently took up to 10 days of strike action over three weeks, from Monday 14 February to Wednesday 2 March, and previously went on strike for three days in December 2021.

Industrial ballots also opened at 149 universities last week, including at most of the 67 universities facing strike action. They will run until Friday 8 April. Successful ballots pave the way for action to continue to be called throughout the remainder of 2022, including action short of strike, such as a marking and assessment boycott. This could stop hundreds of thousands of students from graduating.

Last month university employers forced through USS pension cuts, which will see 35% slashed from a typical member's guaranteed retirement income. In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding that employers revoke their cuts and re-enter negotiations. 

New retail price index inflation figures of 7.8% mean UCU estimates staff pay is now down by 25.5% in real terms since 2009. Over 70k academics are employed on insecure contracts. The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%.

In the pay and working conditions dispute the union is demanding an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other insecure contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads; as well as a £2.5k pay rise for all university employees.

The union said universities can more than afford to meet the demands of staff. University finance figures show total income across the sector is around £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn. Students have been supporting striking staff and the National Union of Students joined the previous round of action with a student strike on Wednesday 2 March.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Vice-chancellors across the UK have the power to end these disputes. The money is there to pay staff properly, tackle punishing working conditions and reverse pension cuts that will devastate retirement incomes. Instead, university bosses are choosing to sit on reserves worth tens of billions of pounds and make their own staff suffer. That's why we are out on picket lines yet again.

'By continuing to ignore the longstanding and serious concerns of staff, vice chancellors are not only pushing their own workforce to breaking point, but also doing serious harm to the future of higher education and preventing it from being the best it can be.'

Last updated: 29 November 2022