One in four UK universities polled get fresh strike mandate

Disruption will hit summer assessment period, but employers call on unions to ‘move on’

April 12, 2022
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Ballots for further strike action in the UK’s long-running industrial dispute over pay and pensions have handed a mandate for action to only one in four branches that were polled.

Staff at 37 University and College Union branches voted in favour of walkouts and passed the 50 per cent turnout threshold which is legally required for action in most of the UK. More than 100 other branches mostly failed to pass the threshold, with a handful voting “no”.

The results mean that 39 institutions currently have a green light for continuing action, as mandates remain live at Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Queen Mary University of London.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) said that the “diminishing” mandate should be a “wake-up call” for UCU’s team to “move on” from the dispute about last year’s pay negotiations.

Universities have already been hit by 13 days of strike action so far this year, with the most recent round of walkouts, which concluded earlier this month, affecting 67 campuses.

But the vote does mean that disruption will continue on some campuses into the summer assessment period, with 38 institutions securing fresh mandates for action short of a strike, which could include a marking boycott. Alongside continuing mandates, this means that 42 have mandates for action short of a strike.

Institutions securing a strike mandate included some of the UK’s most prestigious and largest institutions, including Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle and King’s College London.

Overall, on pay, 74 per cent of union members who voted backed strike action, with 86 per cent supporting action short of a strike. The mandates run until October this year.

On the dispute relating to cuts to pensions provided by the Universities Superannuation Scheme, 80 per cent backed strike action, with 88 per cent supporting action short of a strike.

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive, said that the vote covered a pay rise – of a minimum 1.5 per cent – which was awarded nine months ago.

“UCU’s diminishing mandate should be a wake-up call to its leaders to move on from antagonism towards meaningful engagement with employers…The failure to achieve mandates at more than a quarter of HE institutions suggests that most HE staff have moved on from last year’s balanced outcome,” Mr Jethwa said.

The union had called for a £2,500 pay rise for all employees as well as meaningful action on workloads, casualisation and pay inequality. Negotiations for next year’s pay settlement are now under way.

UCU will hold a higher education sector conference on 20 April to decide how to use the new mandate.

Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, said that the result was “a damning indictment of the way vice chancellors run universities and treat their staff”.

“Pay for university workers has fallen by over a quarter in real terms since 2009 whilst tens of thousands are exploited on precarious contracts and a workload crisis goes unresolved. Even during this almost unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, vice-chancellors on eye-watering salaries – who manage institutions sitting on tens of billions of pounds in reserves – have shown zero willingness to listen to their staff and are more intransigent than ever.”

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Reader's comments (2)

It's a terrible outcome for the UCU.
Why terrible? One would never expect every person at every institution to stand up for the collective good and lecturers at a quarter of HE institutions are still refusing to kneel - battered, bruised, but still not down. The only effective tool that can budge greedy and/or not-so-bright managers is a comprehensive marking boycott which is now hopefully going to be at the focal point of striking institutions. We have nothing left to lose so should continue to use all legal means available (strike/ASOS) until we have no weapon left and are no longer able to stand.