Education & Family

UK lecturers' strike over pensions disrupts students

Lecturers' picket line at SOAS (24.03.11)
Image caption Lecturers formed picket lines outside some universities

Students at universities and colleges across the UK are facing disruption to their studies as lecturers strike over pay and changes to their pensions.

The UK-wide action involves members of the University and College Union in up to 500 FE colleges, older universities and former polytechnic universities.

It follows earlier pension protests by dons at older universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association said it was disappointed.

The UCU says the protest is the first UK-wide strike action in universities for five years and the first in further education colleges since 2008.

The union, which says tens of thousands of staff are striking, has received the support of the National Union of Students, despite the likely disruption to their members' studies.

Culmination of action

The strike comes on top of four days of industrial action at 67 older UK universities in a row over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

The strike on Thursday will see them joined by colleagues in the rest of the UK's universities and those in further education colleges, who are members of the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

The USS dispute centres on attempts to raise the retirement age, increase contributions from 6.35% to 7.5% of earnings, and end the final salary element of the scheme for new joiners.

The Employers' Pensions Forum, which runs the scheme, said the strike action was "damaging" and the changes were are "remarkably good deal" in the context of likely changes to pensions across other sectors.

It accuses UCU of ignoring three years of negotiations - while the union blames the EPF for refusing talks through the conciliation service Acas.

The further education staff say they are striking because of the government's support for the principles laid out in the Hutton report on public sector pensions - raising contributions, moving to a career average scheme, and linking pension rises to the lower measure of inflation, CPI.

The government is yet to give its official response to the Hutton report.

Rallies were due to take place in cities including Leeds, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Newcastle.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "University and college staff really value their pension rights and have made their views of the detrimental changes crystal clear.

"Strike action is always a last resort but the attacks on pensions and pay have created real anger and, instead of burying their heads in the sand, the employers need to respond urgently to our concerns.

"Staff are sick to the back teeth of being told that their pay and pensions need to be cut to pay for an economic crisis created by others."

NUS president Aaron Porter said: "Huge cuts to university budgets ideologically imposed by this government pose a massive threat to jobs and education.

"NUS has worked closely with UCU throughout our campaigns to oppose government cuts and stands in solidarity with their strike action."

Chair of UCEA Professor Keith Burnett said: "Employers are extremely disappointed by UCU's decision to take industrial action.

"We look to UCU to work with higher education institutions during this period of change and challenge for all - not against them.

"There is much uncertainty in HE [higher education] at present and this course of action will have the potential to cause further difficulties for students and institutions."

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