University staff vote overwhelmingly for industrial action in pensions row

20 October 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Staff have overwhelmingly backed plans for industrial action at 69 UK universities in a row over changes to pensions.

In the ballot, 78% of members of the University and College Union (UCU) who voted, voted for strike action and 87% voted for action short of a strike, which could include a marking boycott. The turnout of 45% was the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006.

Talks are scheduled on Wednesday between the union and the employers' representatives. The union said if the employers continued with their proposals then the union would meet on Friday (24 October) to decide what form the disruption would take and when it would start.

The ballot made it clear to members that a vote for action would most likely lead to a marking boycott and a refusal to set exams. The action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is the pension scheme for staff at the UK's 'old' universities and covers the most selective institutions including the Russell Group of universities. The changes have been prompted by an expected deficit in USS. However, UCU says the methodology used to determine the deficit is too simplistic and doesn't take account of the scheme's underlying strengths.

Since 2011, when the last set of detrimental changes to members' pensions were made, the fund's investments have grown by £8bn, the number of members has grown by 18% and returns on investment have outperformed both average earnings and inflation.

However, Universities UK want to reduce the coverage of the defined benefit element of the scheme and introduce a riskier defined contribution pension scheme, with those in or aspiring to the highest academic grades suffering most.

Modelling done by First Actuarial has shown that academics would be thousands of pounds worse off if the changes did go through. Last week UUK was under fire for providing misleading information and using dodgy statistics in its pension briefings.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'UCU members at universities across the UK have made it quite clear today that they reject the radical changes being proposed for their pensions. We will go into talks on Wednesday hopeful that we can resolve the current impasse.

'However, we will go into that meeting with a serious mandate from members that they need to see real improvements. If the employers do not address our concerns then we will meet on Friday to determine what forms of disruptive action we take and when they would start.'

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