ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Low Pay, Pension Cuts Prompt Largest University Strike in UK History

More than 70,000 staff members from 150 universities are set to strike later this month, marking five consecutive years of academic protests in the country.

A sign taped to a tree sports the UCU label, and reads "Official Picket" in bold pink letters. A person with a backpack walks past in the background.
A black and white headshot of Katherine Irving
Katherine Irving

Katherine Irving is an intern at The Scientist. She studied creative writing, biology, and geology at Macalester College, where she honed her skills in journalism and podcast production and conducted research on dinosaur bones in Montana. Her work has previously been featured in Science.

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

ABOVE: A sign marks the official picket line for a UCU strike outside of Cardiff University in 2019. © ISTOCK.COM, Ceri Breeze

Staff members from more than 150 UK universities plan to strike on the 24th, 25th, and 30th of this month, the University and College Union announced yesterday (November 8). The strike is estimated to involve over 70,000 university staff members, which would make it the largest strike at UK universities to date, the announcement says.

“Campuses across the UK are about to experience strike action on a scale never seen before,” University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady says in the announcement.

If they go ahead, these strikes will mark the fifth consecutive year that UK university staff members have staged strikes in protest of poor working conditions—in this case, low pay increases and pension cuts, the release continues. Earlier this year, UK universities enacted an overall 3 perfect percent pay increase, according to the University & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), with a 9 percent increase for the lowest paid staff. However, the UCU argues that this amount is far below the level of inflation, which it characterizes based on the July 2022 retail price index (RPI) of 12.3 percent. Moreover, the UCU points out that UK universities generated a £3.4 billion surplus in the 2020/2021 financial year and have more than enough money to better pay their staff. Staff are also protesting proposed pension cuts enacted in April 2022 that saw them lose an average of 35 percent of their retirement income.

See “UK Academics Strike Amid Pension Dispute"

To protest these conditions, members of the UCU overwhelmingly voted in favor of industrial action last month in two historic ballots concerning pay and pension, according to an October UCU news release. The votes allow strike action at “practically every university in the UK,” according to the release, and demand a pay increase of RPI plus 2 percent. Because university officials haven’t improved their offers, the union plans to move ahead with the strike.

UCEA Chief Executive Raj Jethwa expressed the sector’s disappointment at the news of the strike. “Any threats of industrial action will do nothing to support students, staff or the many [higher education] institutions working hard to avoid redundancies or maintain staffing levels,” he says in a news release. He adds that UCEA will not renegotiate this year’s pay as a result of the strikes, but will consider negotiations for the 2023/2024 pay round. As for pensions, a spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK), an advocacy organization representing 140 UK universities, says that employer contributions are already “at the very limit of affordability,” according to Times Higher Education, and that industrial action “is likely to impede joint working on the next valuation, and delay much-needed changes such as governance reform of the scheme and the introduction of lower cost options for members.”

The UUK spokesperson emphasized that universities are introducing measures to mitigate the effect of the strikes on students, Times Higher Education continues. According to yesterday's UCU announcement, the strikes have the support of the National Union of Students (NUS).

“Staff teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions,” NUS Vice President Chloe Field said in the UCU announcement. “We must fight together for a fairer, healthier education system for everyone who works and studies.”

ADVERTISEMENT