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Poll shows students support pension strikes and blame universities for the disruption

22 February 2018

New polling shows that students support strike action being taken by university staff and think universities are most to blame for the action.

The YouGov poll, conducted on the eve of the strikes, shows that just two per cent of students think university staff are most to blame for the dispute, with half (50%) pointing the finger at the university employers. One in five students (20%) said they thought that both universities and staff were at fault.

Support for the strikes is strong amongst students, with those at universities affected by action more likely to support the disruption. Overall, three-fifths of students (61%) said they supported the strike, but that proportion grew to 66% at universities where staff are striking.

Key findings include:

  • Overall, three-fifths of students (61%) said they supported the strikes
  • Support was stronger in universities affected by the strikes (66% from students in striking universities compared with 58% from those in non-striking universities)
  • Half of students (50%) blamed the university employers for the dispute that is leading to strike action
  • Just 2% of students said they blamed university staff for the strikes. One in five (20%) said staff and universities were equally to blame
  • Only one in 20 (5%) said they disagreed with calls for both sides to return to the negotiating table

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'This poll shows it is quite clear who students think is to blame for the strikes at universities. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from students and want to assure them we are doing all we can to get this dispute resolved.

'Students are threatening to sue for compensation, university vice-chancellors are breaking ranks and publicly calling for their representatives in UUK to restart talks, and the universities minister has said it's time for talks.

'The universities' refusal to negotiate with us has caused this mess and they owe it to students to start negotiating properly. We are happy to meet directly or through a mediator, as suggested by the National Union of Students.'

UCU members are walking out over plans to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost£10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

The universities' representatives - Universities UK - are seeking to push through the changes and have refused to negotiate with UCU. The union says this has left it with no alternative but to strike. In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action. The turnout was 58%.

This morning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn added his voice to those calling on UUK to get back to the negotiating table. In a YouTube message of support to strikers the leader of the opposition said: 'I join staff and students in calling for the employers to commit now to meaningful negotiations, through Acas if necessary to resolve this dispute.'

Yesterday universities minister Sam Gyimah also called for both sides to return to the negotiating table. In a strongly-worded tweet he said that UCU and UUK needed to "find a way through this damaging and avoidable impasse ASAP."

Tens of thousands of students have now signed petitions at over 30 universities demanding compensation from their universities for loss of teaching. Some university vice-chancellors have publicly called on UUK to get back to the table to sort the mess out.

The strike days are:

Week one - Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)

Week two - Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)

Week three - Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Week four - Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

The union is meeting on Friday 2 March to consider universities' response to the first wave of strikes and what further action might be necessary.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 758 undergraduate university students in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken on 13 - 20 February 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of UK students by university type, gender and year of study.

Last updated: 26 February 2018