On Monday 22 January, the University and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in response to threats to university staff pensions.
Strikes will take place in 61 universities across the UK. These include some of the largest and most respected institutions, including Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL, Bristol, Durham and St Andrews.
The strikes will commence nationwide on Thursday 22 February, beginning 14 days of strikes across a four week period. Due to its academic calendar, the University of Edinburgh staff strike will begin the week after on Monday 26 February, alongside King’s College London, Queen Mary and Stirling.
UCU’s action will also see teaching staff members refusing to cover for sick colleagues, or to reschedule classes lost to strike action.
88 per cent of UCU members voted for strike action in the ballot which took place between November 2017 and January this year. An overwhelming 93% of members backed industrial action short of a strike.
At the University of Edinburgh, 87.4 per cent voted in favour of strike action and 95.6 per cent voted in favour of industrial action short of strike action.
The government’s new strike action policy meant that universities needed over a 50 per cent turnout for strike action to be allowed. Only seven universities failed to meet this quota, but they are being balloted again and have voted for strike action in a previous ballot.
These planned strikes come after the failure of negotiations between UCU and employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) in November 2017.
The negotiations centred on UUK’S proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension scheme (USS), a pension scheme in which most university staff are enrolled.
The changes would see an end to guaranteed pension benefits. This would be replaced by a scheme where retirement income would depend on returns from investments in the stock market and thus be subject to changes in the market.
After UCU and UUK failed to reach an agreement, UUK’s plans to transform the pension scheme had to be forced through by the chair’s casting vote
If these proposals are enacted, an average lecturer will be left almost £10,000 worse off a year in retirement. A study carried out by financial advisors Tileny suggests that a scheme like the one proposed by UUK would leave a final pension worth roughly 20 per cent of the value of the current USS.
The UUK proposed these alterations in response to the increasingly difficult financial status of the pension scheme. Due to challenging economic circumstances the scheme faces an increased deficit, as well as an increase in the cost of future defined pension benefits by over a third since 2014.
The university will shortly be publishing FAQs regarding the impact of the strike on students. Follow the Edinburgh University Students’ Association website and social media channels for updates.
Image: Rosie Duckworth / Photographer