Universities across the UK were rocked this week as lecturers took unprecedented action by enacting a full strike which has seen tens of thousands of university staff cancelling seminars and leaving their post. The strike is response to pension cuts which have been introduced as part of the pension reform process by university vice-chancellors and is expected to last until next Thursday, followed by a further nine-day strike over the following two weeks. Lecturers are reportedly also planning to extend into June when the university strike continues.
Pension Reforms To Impact Incomes
As part of the reforms, Universities UK said that it will no longer offer staff “defined” benefit schemes which provide a guaranteed income level and will be cutting around £10k a year from lecturer’s pensions. Some lecturers have said that the cuts will mean they lose almost half of their pension.
While the pension reforms had been introduced nationwide, there has been an interesting development over the last 24 hours with some vice-chancellors breaking away and calling for a resumption of negotiations between the striking lecturers and the university vice-chancellors. University leaders, including those from Durham, Kent and Newcastle have made their call and a contingent of these were present in London last night for an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
Vice-Chancellors Sitting on Pay Rises
The issue is highly contentions as the latest figures show that vice-chancellors were, on average, given a £10k salary increase over the last academic year, up 4% from the prior year and nearly four times the 1.1% increase given to university staff. One of the vice-chancellors calling for resumed negotiations, Stuart Corbridge from Durham, has said that his university is prepared to increase pension contributions to offset the effects of the reform scheme, increasing the university’s contributions from 18% to 20% though as yet, no other universities have made such an offer.
Students Threaten Legal Action
The strike is having a serious impact on the university environment with some students now threatening to take legal action against the universities. With students paying around £9250 a year for tuition fees, 14 days of lost education equates to around £1295 lost and 67000 students have now signed a petition calling for compensation of this level.
Universities such as Exeter, UCL and Newcastle have said that the money saved from restricting wages for striking staff members will go into a hardship which they hope will deter some of the worse off students from taking legal action and instead apply for funding via these programs.
The main concern now is that the strikes could disrupt the summer exam timetable which is due to start shortly and could see as many as 1 million students disrupted. University students are now keenly awaiting the outcome of the meeting of dissident vice chancellors hoping that negotiations will restart and the strike will end soon.