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Biggest ever university strike begins in fight over pay, pensions & conditions

23 November 2022

Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK begin three days of strike action over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions. The strike is the biggest in the history of higher education and UCU is predicting historic turnout on its picket lines.

Staff will be picketing the entrances of every university each day of the action. The full strike dates are:

  • Thursday 24 November
  • Friday 25 November
  • Wednesday 30 November

The strikes come after UCU members overwhelmingly voted 'yes' to industrial action last month in two historic national ballots over attacks on pay and working conditions as well as pension cuts. The results are the first ever successful nationally aggregated ballots in the education sector since the Tories introduced anti-trade union laws in 2016. Despite the results, vice-chancellors have not made any improved offers.

The National Union of Students has backed the strike action, which could see over 2.5m students impacted.

In the pay and working conditions dispute, the union's demands include a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis as well as action to end the use of insecure contracts and deal with dangerously high workloads. Employers imposed a pay rise worth just 3% this year following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. On average university staff do two days additional work unpaid per week, whilst a third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract.

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made earlier this year will see the average member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their careers the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.                                   

The UK university sector generated record income of £41.1bn last year with the 150 vice-chancellors facing action collectively earning an estimated £45 million. UCU said the sector can more than afford to meet staff demands.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'University staff are taking the biggest strike action in the history of higher education. They have had enough of falling pay, pension cuts and gig-economy working conditions - all whilst vice-chancellors enjoy lottery win salaries and live it up in their grace and favour mansions.

'Staff are burnt out, but they are fighting back and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill. Vice-chancellors only have themselves to blame. Their woeful leadership has led to the biggest vote for strike action ever in our sector.

'Students are standing with staff because they know this can't go on. And they know that a sector which generates tens of billions of pounds each year from tuition fees can afford to treat its staff fairly.

'Further disruption can be avoided if the concerns of staff are addressed with urgency. But the overpaid vice-chancellors killing our sector should be under no illusion: 70,000 dedicated university workers are ready to take even bigger action in the New Year.'

National Union of Students Vice President Higher Education Chloe Field said: 'Students stand in solidarity with university staff going on strike. We have always been clear that staff working conditions are students' learning conditions, and for more than a decade both have come under attack from a sector that puts profits above education.

'Staff work hard to deliver a world-class experience for students, but more and more are struggling under the pressures of increased workloads, falling pay, cuts to their pensions and insecure work. Universities and employers should agree to UCU's demands.

'We exist in the same system and our struggles are inextricably linked. Only by coming together and showing solidarity with each other can we achieve the real and lasting change we want for everyone who works and studies in this country.'

Last updated: 24 November 2022