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University strikes escalate after staff reject 'low-ball' offer

8 February 2023

Two further days of strike action at UK universities are going ahead this week after staff rejected the employers' pay offer. Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK will down tools tomorrow and Friday.

The action comes after an overwhelming 80% of members who voted rejected the latest offer from employers. Over 30,000 UCU members responded to UCU's online poll which was open for just four days. The offer is worth only 5% for most UCU members. 

The National Union of Students (NUS) is backing staff taking the strike action, which will impact 2.5 million students. UCU said university bosses are "in hiding" and need to engage properly in negations if they want to stop a further 15 days of strike action from going ahead over the next two months.

Staff will be picketing all 150 universities across the UK on both days of strike action.

Despite staff emphatically rejecting the 5% pay award, employers have not yet responded with an improved offer. Employers have also continually failed to address insecure employment practices and workloads, two issues that are central to this dispute. There are over 90,000 university staff on insecure contracts and staff work an average of two extra days unpaid per week.

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

The sector holds more than £44bn in reserves and has a yearly income of over £42bn.

Employers have admitted it would cost just 3% of their reserves to settle UCU's pay claim. The highest paid vice-chancellor earned £714,000 in 2021/22. Last week Kay Burley asked for any of the sector's 150 vice-chancellors to be interviewed by her on Sky News and account for the state of higher education. Not one has volunteered. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is no surprise that university staff have overwhelmingly rejected a low-ball 5% offer from employers, this is a huge real-terms pay cut that would leave our members worse off. We are striking for 48 hours this week and will take escalating action until we get a fair deal. 

'University bosses hold over £40bn in reserves, but they would rather hoard that money than use just a fraction of it to settle our dispute and bring an end to the unprecedented strike action that is hitting universities. Whilst they earn up to £714k a year, tens of thousands of our members are on insecure contracts, some as short as six weeks, and have seen their pay held down for over a decade. We have repeatedly asked bosses to explain why they refuse to deal with the issues that blight higher education. Yet they refuse to publicly justify their position. We know the bosses are in hiding because their position is indefensible.' 

NUS vice-president for higher education Chloe Field said: 'The vice-chancellors in charge of our universities would rather see students face disruption on a scale we have never seen before than pay staff what they are worth. Every day of teaching we lose is completely the fault of vice-chancellors who refuse to pay their staff properly.' 

Last updated: 28 April 2023