In a ballot over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, 65 per cent of UCU members who voted backed strike action, and 82 per cent supported action short of a strike.
Two-day strikes will go ahead at 63 institutions – mainly pre-1992 universities – from 21 March unless the employers grant last-minute concessions. Those institutions facing strikes include all those in the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities.
The UCU also won backing for strike action over pay and job security. In that ballot, 53 per cent of members who voted backed strike action, and 74 per cent backed action short of a strike. Turnout was 34 per cent.
But the union has yet to decide on its next steps on action over pay and job security, where the majority in favour of a strike was narrow. Its higher education officers will discuss the issue at a meeting on 10 March.
The pension ballot was sparked by employers’ proposals to change the USS, which was created for academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 universities. At only four of the 67 institutions where staff were balloted on strikes was action rejected. The vote, on a turnout of 36.3 per cent, gives the union the majority it needs for strike action.
The UCU will seek talks with the employers at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in a bid to win concessions. If employers do not budge, it will carry through on the strike threat.
Among those to face strikes will be the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, where opposition to the pension changes was fierce among staff.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “Considering the limited timetable we had to ballot, this is a fantastic result and a clear mandate for action should the employers push ahead with their plans to impose the damaging changes to the pension scheme.”
The changes to the USS, scheduled to be introduced on 1 April, include an end to final-salary pensions for new members, the introduction of a pension age of 65 for all members, and the linking of pension increases to the lower consumer prices index of inflation.
A UCU spokesman said: “If the talks fail, this means in effect that universities will be hit with up to two days’ industrial action each. Exactly when the action will take place during the two-week period will be determined by individual institutions’ term dates.”
Each individual union member who voted for stoppages would strike for two days.
A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said: "We are awaiting confirmation of the ballot figures and the scrutineer’s report. The initial figures show a low turnout and close vote, particularly on pay and job security.
"The figures point to some 50,000 UCU members recognising that pursuing industrial action is not the answer to dealing with the very serious challenges we all face. There is much uncertainty at present and this course of action will only damage students, institutions and the sector as a whole.”