The University and College Union (UCU) will begin two weeks of industrial action, starting with a two day strike on Thursday 22 February. Members of staff at UEA and 60 other universities will join together to protest changes to their pensions. However, the decision to strike has been subject to misinformation about who will be striking and why. The UCU represents over 110,000 people who are employed by universities in some way, from lecturers to librarians.
In the eyes of the UCU, strike action is needed due to the manner in which staff pensions are being handled by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which is one of the largest principal private pension schemes for universities and other higher education institutions in the UK.
According to a survey conducted by this newspaper, student attitudes about the strike have been somewhat mixed, though there appears to be a general support for striking staff. Out of the 100 students surveyed by Concrete, 63 percent said they supported the strike. One English Literature second year even told Concrete: “I would be joining the lecturers in striking if I could.”
Only 3 percent of students were opposed to the industrial action, and a further 34 percent said they were unsure. Charlotte, a second-year Pharmacy student, explained why she was unsure: “My course has a lot of contact hours. On Mondays I’m in lectures from 9-5, the strike will cause a lot of disruption.”
Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The whole point of a strike is to be disruptive.” They continued: “I overwhelmingly understand and support the strikes. It’s tough but what can you do?”
Concrete found 56 percent of students were worried about the impact the strikes will have on their education. 80 percent of students said they felt they understood the reasons for the strike.
The USS have proposed changes to its pension scheme that would see those affiliated receiving a pension dependent on the strength of the market, instead of the 8 percent of their salaries presented as a guaranteed sum.
The average lecturer could lose £200,000 over the course of their career from this modification. The changes are widely believed to be due to a valuation last year that revealed the pension scheme was in a deficit of £7.5bn.
It was only after negotiations between both parties and employers collapsed that strike action was seen to be the only option. The number of staff members at UEA that are members of the UCU amounts 596 people, which is 18 percent of its entire staff. That said, when given the chance to vote on strike action, 392 members of staff voted, 87 percent of which opted to strike.
This is reflective of the 88 percent of UCU members nationally that voted in support of the strike. The strike will last 14 days in total, but is to be scaled across the space of the month, with a day added each week that culminates in a full week of teaching being missed during the final week of the strike.
It is still unclear as to how many staff members will strike, but students will be informed on the day of teaching if their classes are affected.
As part of the conditions of the strike, teaching will not be rearranged for those affected. The Students’ Union “recommends that students attend their scheduled activities as normal unless they have specifically been told otherwise.”
Students can contact their individual seminar leaders, though they have no obligation to reveal whether or not they’re striking.