UK universities to face further strike action over pension and pay disputes

UK Universities will face a further 17 days of strike action over February and March in an ongoing dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions, the University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed.

Following strike action earlier this month, the UCU confirmed that members at 150 UK universities will again walk out on strike action on 9 and 10 February, with a further 15 days of strike action confirmed for later in February and March.

In the pensions dispute, the union urged employers to revoke recent changes to the USS scheme, arguing that the package of reforms made in 2022 will see the average member lose 35 per cent of their guaranteed future retirement income.

Calls for employers to reverse the changes have been heightened amid recent funding improvements, with figures from the scheme trustee highlighted by the UCU as evidence that the scheme could afford to retroactively restore pension benefits.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, stated: “We are striking for 48 hours this week and will take escalating action until we get a fair deal.

‘University bosses hold over £40bn in reserves, but they would rather hoard that money than use just a fraction of it to settle our dispute and bring an end to the unprecedented strike action that is hitting universities.

"We have repeatedly asked bosses to explain why they refuse to deal with the issues that blight higher education. Yet they refuse to publicly justify their position. We know the bosses are in hiding because their position is indefensible.’

However, USS Employers previously argued that the USS remains one of the most attractive private pension schemes in the country, noting that employer contribution rates are around three times higher than the average employer contribution rate among the FTSE 250 companies.

Commenting prior to the industrial action earlier this month, a spokesperson for Universities UK on behalf of USS employers said: “It is disappointing to once again be facing industrial action and the top priority for universities will be putting in place a series of measures to protect students’ learning.

"However, we expect action to again be limited and the action faced in recent years means universities are well prepared to manage any pockets of disruption.

“Employers and UCU share the goal of a secure, valuable, and affordable retirement income for university staff – and the USS remains one of the most attractive private pension schemes in the country, with employer contribution rates already around three times higher than the average employer contribution rate among the FTSE 250 companies.

“The reality is that for some considerable time, universities have had to do more with less and make up the shortfall on the cost of teaching and support from elsewhere in budgets because fees have not kept pace with inflation.

"This is the context in which we would ask members of the UCU to consider whether to join the picket lines in the weeks ahead, and we will continue to speak to the union to work towards an agreement as far as it is possible to do so.”

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