Open days at London universities face disruption as staff strike over pay

21 June 2016 | last updated: 24 June 2016

Staff at five London universities will be on strike this week, disrupting a major higher education exhibition as well as an open evening, examinations, teaching and examination boards, in a row over pay.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 22 June) UCU members at the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will jointly picket a major higher education exhibition run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) from 9am outside the King William Walk gate to the Greenwich Maritime campus.

At the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) union members will target examination boards in Development Studies, Politics and Religion, and Philosophy. Invigilators will withdraw from foundation course exams and from foundation course teaching. There will be picket lines at Russell Square and Woburn Square from 8am. UCU members will be leafleting members of the university Senate - a body comprising of senior staff, as well as external examiners, asking them not to attend meetings scheduled that day.

On Thursday (23 June), UCU members at Birkbeck, University of London due to be involved in running an open evening will not attend. Striking members will leaflet prospective students attending the open evening at the Royal National Hotel between 4pm-6.30pm. They will also picket outside the main university building on Malet Street from 9.30am.

Members at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will form a picket line outside the main entrance on Keppel Street from 8am onwards.

The dispute has arisen following a pay offer of just 1.1% from the universities' employers, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. 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.

Birkbeck UCU branch president, John Kelly, said: 'Our action will undoubtedly be disruptive 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 London.

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 at these London universities 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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