UK university staff plan 18 more days of strike action

UCU committee backs escalating action in February and March after rejecting employers’ initial pay rise offer

January 12, 2023
UCU rally
Source: Tom Williams

UK universities will be hit by 18 more days of strikes in February and March after union representatives backed “escalating action” as opposed to an “indefinite” walkout.

The University and College Union has pledged to ramp up its industrial action and plans to hold a marking and assessment boycott in April as it rejected a proposed pay offer from employers that would have awarded staff a rise of between 4 and 7 per cent by August.

The precise dates for the latest strikes are still to be confirmed, and come after a dispute within the union over where to go next with the campaign.

A section on the left of the union backed calling an indefinite walkout after claiming that sporadic strikes had not worked in recent years, but others had concerns about how long the union could sustain such an action.

The chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea), Raj Jethwa, said the fact that the union had not called indefinite strike action was “welcome, but their revised strike plans could still have a damaging impact on students”.

“UCU needs to provide its members with a realistic and fair assessment of what is achievable, before giving them the chance to accept or refuse the highest HE pay offer made in nearly 20 years,” he added.

Up to 70,000 UCU members could take part in the strikes, across all 150 universities in the country. They will follow the sector-wide walkouts in November.

The UCU’s general secretary, Jo Grady, said the union had come together to “back an unprecedented programme of escalating strike action”.

“The clock is now ticking for the sector to produce a deal or be hit with widespread disruption throughout spring,” she added.

“University staff dedicate their lives to education, and they want to get back to work, but that will only happen if university vice-chancellors use the vast wealth of the sector to address over a decade of falling pay, rampant insecure employment practices and devastating pension cuts. The choice is theirs.”

The union’s higher education committee also agreed to re-ballot staff in April to seek to renew the union’s mandate to allow it to call further action into 2023, if necessary.

Universities in the UK have been affected by repeated strikes over the past five years. The UCU has called for an above-inflation pay rise – currently at 10.7 per cent – as well as better working conditions and action on precarity and gender and race pay gaps.

Many branches are also striking over cuts to pensions provided by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Mr Jethwa said Ucea’s pay offer “recognises that cost-of-living pressures fall disproportionately on the lower-paid staff” and had been made despite “unprecedented financial pressures also faced by employers, from rising running costs to tuition fee freezes”.

He called on the five trade unions involved in the pay negotiations to put the proposed pay rise to their membership.

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Reader's comments (5)

What a sillybilly pay offer.
Academics can get much better pay once excess management and excess bureaucracy is tackled. The waste of money in these areas is staggerinbg.
What is on 'offer' is not a 'pay rise', that is incorrect. It is a slightly less damaging pay cut. The offer ranges from 7% more (i.e. real terms -3%) from August for UCU members on £22,662, to 4% more (i.e. real terms -6%) for members on £50,030 (point 43) and more with part of this increase backdated to February 2023. For the higher band, this is a 2-year cumulative 16.3% pay cut against RPI (12% against CPI).
If there are any HE economists out there - it would be interesting to see how much money has been spent in the sector in the past 10 years (after the removal of the student number cap) on marketing, advertising and recruitment - all that money spent on institutions competing with one another for the fixed pool of students each year - could have been spent on lower fees and higher pay!
HESA has a breakdown on expenditure and income across the sector and by individual institutions. You can also obtain data from the report and accounts data. Non-price competition for 'home' students has always existed. By I agree that capital investments has increased ATVs faster rate than human capital. That's the US experience too. Socially excessive expenditure on infra structure.