Oxford's universities' strikes to target degree and graduation ceremonies

20 June 2016 | last updated: 21 June 2016

An honorary degree ceremony at the University of Oxford and a graduation ceremony at Oxford Brookes University will be targeted by striking staff this week, in a row over pay.

UCU members at the University of Oxford will hold a demonstration at the Encaenia Ceremony, where honorary degrees are awarded, outside the Sheldonian Theatre on Broad Street, from 10.30am-1.30pm on Wednesday (22 June).  A second demonstration will take place at the entrance to the Encaenia Garden Party at Merton College, Merton Street, from 3.30-5pm.

At Oxford Brookes University, union members will target a graduation ceremony and will be leafleting students and their guests, as they enter the Headington campus on Gipsy Lane on Friday (24 June).

The dispute has arisen following a pay offer of just 1.1% from the universities' employers, UCEA. UCU said universities could afford to pay more and the latest offer did little to address the real terms pay cut of 14.5% that its members have suffered since 2009. The squeeze on staff salaries comes despite vice-chancellors enjoying a 6.1% pay hike.

The union has also called for universities to commit to closing the gender pay gap and reducing the proportion of staff on casual and zero-hour contracts. On average, female academics across the sector are paid £6,103 per year less than male counterparts while 49% of university teachers are on insecure contracts.

Since 2010 the amount spent on staff by universities as a percentage of total income has dropped by 3%. However the total of cash in reserves has rocketed by 72% to over £21bn.

University of Oxford UCU branch president, Terry Hoad, said: 'Our action will undoubtedly be disruptive to this prestigious university event but employers must learn they cannot continue treating us with contempt and ignoring the erosion of our pay, particularly given the spiralling cost of housing in Oxford.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Universities need to recognise that staff will no longer accept their pay being held down while a few at the top enjoy bumper pay rises. Nobody wants to take industrial action, but clearly enough is enough.'

Members in Oxford are in the first wave of institutions that will take part in strike action aimed at disrupting open days, graduation ceremonies and key university processes and meetings. More local branches are expected to announce their plans this week after union members voted to escalate their action earlier this month.

As well as walking out last month, UCU members have started working to contract, which means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work, or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues.

The union has also called on external examiners to resign their positions on exam boards; a move which threatens to disrupt marking this summer when boards meet to discuss challenged marks. External examiners are a crucial part of quality assurance in universities, as each course requires an external examiner to ensure that an institution's assessment is fair and comparable with others.

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