The University and College Union has called on the UK’s new research umbrella body to extend its funding deadlines as strikes over changes to the country’s biggest higher education pension scheme continue.
The move comes as staff at 65 UK institutions entered their fourth week of strike action triggered by plans to scrap the part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme that guarantees a certain level of income in retirement.
UCU – which is currently involved in negotiations with Universities UK at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – claims the proposal would leave the typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement, compared with the current terms.
In a letter addressed to Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt says the body risks causing “significant damage to the UK research process if it does not urgently agree to some flexibility”.
She adds that UKRI should follow the lead of organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society which have extended their deadlines due to researchers taking industrial action.
“As well as the obvious problem of this week’s action, many staff will be under pressure from universities to prioritise teaching when they return to work,” Ms Hunt says.
More than 3,600 university staff have also signed an open letter calling on UKRI to rethink its refusal to extend deadlines for both existing reporting mechanisms.
The intervention comes after UKRI said it had no intention of amending a 15 March reporting deadline for grantees.
In a statement, UKRI said the completion of existing reporting mechanisms such as Researchfish “is part of the business as usual activity for our grant holders and one of a number of reporting requirements they are expected to complete”.
Disruption is set to continue all week, with a further 14 days of action planned for the exam season if the dispute is not resolved.
A spokeswoman for UUK, which claims the changes are necessary to plug the scheme's deficit which USS claims to be more than £6 billion, said it was “disappointed that UCU are preparing for additional industrial action that could further disrupt students’ education”.
“UUK has again restated its request to the union that industrial action is suspended while talks at Acas continue,” she added. “As part of any alternative proposal, we will expect that industrial action is suspended while UUK consults with all employers.”