Hundreds of thousands of students could face disruption this week as universities are brought to a standstill as part of a national strike. Lectures and tutorials at universities across the UK are expected to be cancelled after unions representing academics and support staff vowed to press ahead with industrial action.
Members of the University and College Union will walk out on Thursday – alongside staff belonging to Unison and Unite – as part of an ongoing row over pay. Unions insist that a one per cent pay rise offered to lecturers, technicians and administration workers represents a significant real-terms cut in salaries. It is claimed that staff have seen wages effectively reduced by 13 per cent pay over the last five years. Activists suggest that tens of thousands of staff members will walk out this week in a move that could partially close universities across the UK. It would be the first protest of its kind since academics took action in a row over pensions in 2011 and the first strike specifically related to pay since 2006.
Today, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents and negotiates on behalf of institutions, said it was “disappointed” by the move.
The association predicted the action would have a “low level impact” on students. But Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “There is widespread anger at the pay cuts staff have had to endure in recent years and all the reports we are getting is that Thursday’s strike will be very well supported. We are amazed the employers are still refusing to sit down with us to try and resolve this without any need for disruption. There are precious few days left now, but our offer of talks remains open. If the employers refuse to move then there will be massive disruption across UK universities on Thursday. There was last time we were on strike over pay back in 2006 and this time our colleagues in Unite and Unison are also on strike.”
Universities insist that the strike lacks a proper mandate. According to the UCEA, some 378,250 people work in the sector but just 29,538 voted from the three unions. Of those, around 17,800 voted in favour of strike action, it was claimed. A spokesman said: “The vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and that the one per cent uplift for all, in addition to other pay increases that include service increments and merit pay for many, is a good outcome. The financial challenges and uncertainty facing the higher education sector are genuine and our institutions know that the employment package they offer is an excellent one.”