A UCU balloon at a trade union march

Universities are set to face major disruption in February and March, with the University and College Union (UCU) confirming the dates its members will be taking strike action. In total, 70,000 staff at all UK universities will walk out for 18 days, starting on February 1.

UCU has said that the strikes will go ahead unless employers make a substantially improved offer on pay, working conditions and pensions. If they go ahead, this will mark the largest series of strikes to ever take place on UK university campuses.

The full dates of strike action announced by UCU are:

  • Week 1 – Wednesday 1 February
  • Week 2 – Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February
  • Week 3 – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 February
  • Week 4 – Tuesday 21, Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 February
  • Week 5 – Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 February and Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 March
  • Week 6 – Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March
  • Week 7 – Monday 20, Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 March

UCU will be meeting with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) on Wednesday January 25 in a last minute attempt to avoid industrial action. The union says it is demanding a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost of living crisis as well as action end the use of insecure contracts. UCU is also seeking a revocation of planned cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme which covers staff at many of the UK’s older universities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, “The university sector in the UK has over £40bn sitting in reserves, but instead of using that vast wealth to deliver a cost-of-living pay rise and reverse devastating pension cuts, university vice-chancellors would rather force staff to take strike action and see campuses shut down.

“There is a clear route out of these disputes, but at present vice-chancellors lack the political will to take it. They are failing staff who want to get back to work, and students who want to get on with their studies.

“Students understand that staff working conditions are their learning conditions and we are proud to have their support in these disputes. A system that relies on low pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts is a system which fails everyone.”

The union has also said it will be re-balloting its members to secure a mandate for industrial action later in the academic year, should the dispute drag on. Grady said, “A resolution can be reached, but that is in the gift of university vice-chancellors who need to urgently reassess their priorities and deliver a deal that benefits staff and students. From February, our union will begin reballoting its members to allow action to continue through the rest of the academic year, should they continue to drag their feet.”

Since 2009, UCU members have seen their pay cut by 25 per cent in real terms. As a result of changes to the USS pension scheme, academics under the age of 40 are set to lose between £100,000 and £200,000 from their pensions.

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Image credit: It’s No Game – Creative Commons