After failures to resolve an ongoing pensions dispute the Universities and College Union (UCU) threatened fourteen more days of strikes during exams.
This was announced after conflict with the higher education representative organisation Universities UK (UUK) escalated. UCU and UUK were engaged in talks with the industrial conciliation service Acas last week.
If the two bodies fail to resolve their dispute, sixty-five universities will face another wave of strikes. UCU said they were gathering information on when a fortnight of strikes would be most effective at different universities.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt called this “a necessary precaution against the failure of talks to deliver an acceptable settlement.”
“The union would prefer dialogue and I have given my personal commitment to Acas that UCU is serious about reaching an agreement. However, if talks fail, we are prepared to carry out the action in defence of our pensions,” she continued.
A spokesperson for UUK said they were disappointed the UCU were preparing additional action “that could further disrupt students’ education.”
“We are committed to seeking a viable, affordable and mutually acceptable solution to the current challenges facing USS pensions.”
The UCU said talks had seen “constructive engagement and progress.”
However, strike-wearied staff and union officials criticised an apparent lack of commitment to resolution. UEA’s executives said they hope the talks “will help find common ground and resolve the dispute.”
They said the university is working to minimise the effects of the industrial action on students. Heads of Schools will assess the impact of missed teaching on students’ learning.
More than 80 striking staff signed an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson which asked him to exert pressure on UUK to re-evaluate pensions assumptions and produce a plan “ that serves the interests of all.”
SU Postgraduate Education Officer Maddie Colledge evaluated students’ roles in the dispute, suggesting in a blog that they might feel like pawns.
She said: “It is right to be angry about all of this, but it is time that we started channelling this anger at the people who have the capacity to make change, and not the academics who are taking industrial action as a last resort.”
Staff plan to strike every day this week. On Monday, striking staff planned to hold a rabbit-themed picket under the theme #RabbitsOfResistance.
Controversy also surrounds a September UUK survey about the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the main pensions provider for university staff.
On Friday 9 March, Churchill College, Cambridge wrote to them to seek clarification of the role played by the responses of Oxbridge Colleges to the survey. The letter states: “It has not been spelled out how many colleges were actually able to formulate a properly constituted response and it is becoming increasingly clear that of those that did send in a response several highlighted that it did not correspond to a view based on a formal college consultation.”
Universities UK acknowledged the letter but are yet to respond. Their lack of speed and clarity in responses to striking staff prompted a petition to make UUK subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The petition has more than 10,000 signatures.
Dr. Will Davies, a political economist at Goldsmiths university, tweeted: “Will the last University in the UK that is still represented by @UniversitiesUK please turn the lights out.”
For interviews from the picket line and up to date coverage of staff action, visit www.concrete-online.co.uk for more.