Scottish higher education institutions are facing strike ballots as a major national dispute intensifies.

They are among UK establishments where University and College Union (UCU) votes will open on October 18 in a deepening row over pensions, pay, workloads, casualisation and equality concerns.

UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) met on Monday and confirmed the timetable, which will affect 152 institutions in total.

Six will be balloted on Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions and pay issues only, with 83 to be balloted over pay and working conditions. Another 63 face votes regarding pay/working conditions and the USS.

UCU bosses said they expected employers to return to negotiations with better offers in both disputes or face action that would disrupt the end of term and continue into the next one.

Employer body Universities UK (UUK) said it was "disappointed" at the move and accused the UCU of failing to offer a "viable" solution that might support USS reform.

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But the National Union of Students (NUS) offered its support, saying “students will hold employers responsible” if vice chancellors and employers do not come to “a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff”.

The ballots will run from Monday, October 18, until Thursday, November 4, unless employers resolve the dispute beforehand. UCU’s HEC will meet to consider the results of the ballot on November 8, with action expected to take place before the end of the year.

UCU bosses claimed UUK had voted to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of staff last month. They said the plans, based on what have been described as a “flawed” valuation of the USS scheme, would represent an annual guaranteed pension cut of 35 per cent for a typical member.

UCU leaders also said they produced alternative USS reform proposals, insisting these were discussed at the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). They claimed employers refused to match the level of covenant support for UCU’s proposals that they were willing to deliver for their own.

The second ballot is over issues related to declining staff pay, the use of casualised contacts, workload and concerns over equality.

Research by UCU found 42 per cent of teaching staff were employed on zero hours contracts, with 49% on fixed-term agreements.

HeraldScotland: Plans for strike ballots come amid growing anger over staff pay and conditions.Plans for strike ballots come amid growing anger over staff pay and conditions.

The union also said pay for university staff fell by around 20% between 2009 and 2019. It added that, since then, employers had made a series of below inflation offers.

Addressing equality worries, UCU leaders said the gender pay gap was 15.5% and highlighted Higher Education Statistics Agency figures revealing that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, fewer than a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black.

The union is demanding: a £2.5k pay increase; an end to what it called race and gender pay injustice; a framework to eliminate the use of precarious contracts, such as zero-hours employment; meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads. 

The staff groups being balloted include academic and academic-related staff.

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UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.

“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said: “As students, we regularly witness how staff and student’s conditions are intertwined. University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic - these aren’t the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.

“Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve. Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff. If they don’t, students will hold employers responsible.”

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A UUK spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed UCU is campaigning for industrial action over reforms to USS, as they have not proposed a viable solution of their own. The USS Trustee’s assessment of the scheme’s costs means reforms are needed; no change is not an option. The employers’ reform proposal will prevent harmful and unaffordable rises in contributions. UCU may not like the legal and regulatory constraints pensions operate under, but it is irresponsible to make students and staff suffer as a result.

“The reforms voted for by the Joint Negotiating Committee ensure good benefits can be provided for affordable contributions, but employers will still consider alternative solutions. Employers have asked UCU to put forward alternative proposals, but as yet, none have been forthcoming. By proceeding with ballots, the union appears unconcerned by higher contributions, pay cuts, job losses, damage to the student experience, and financial hardship for their members, that will all result if employers are forced to pay more into pensions.

“We have formally invited UCU to work with employers to develop lower-cost options for members, consider alternative scheme designs – including Conditional Indexation – and review the scheme’s governance – these are issues where employers and scheme members share a common desire for change.

“Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and minimise disruption for those staff choosing not to take part.”

 

AFFECTED INSTITUTIONS

USS only

Cranfield University

Imperial College London

Reading, University of

Ruskin College

The Institute of Development Studies

University of Highlands Institute (Scottish Association for Marine Science)

 

Pay, casualisation, workload and equalities

Abertay University

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)

Arts University Bournemouth (AUB)

Bath Spa University

Bedfordshire, University of

Bishop Grosseteste University

Bolton, University of

Bournemouth University

Brighton, University of

Buckinghamshire New University

Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU)

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Central Lancashire, University of (UCLan)

Chester, University of

Chichester, University of

Coventry University

Cumbria, University of

De Montfort University (DMU)

Derby, University of

East London, University of (UEL)

Edge Hill University

Edinburgh Napier University

Falmouth University

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU)

Glasgow School of Art

Gloucestershire, University of

Greenwich, University of

Harper Adams University

Hertfordshire, University of

Huddersfield, University of

Kingston University

Leeds Arts University

Leeds Beckett University

Leeds Trinity University

Lincoln, University of

Liverpool Hope University

Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA)

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU)

London Metropolitan University

London South Bank University (LSBU)

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)

Middlesex University

Newman University College

Northampton, The University of

Northumbria University

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA)

Nottingham Trent University (NTU)

Oxford Brookes University

Plymouth Marjon University

Plymouth, University of

Portsmouth, University of

Queen Margaret University

Robert Gordon University

Roehampton University

Rose Bruford College

Royal Academy of Music (RAM)

Royal Agricultural University

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD)

Royal College of Art (RCA)

Royal College of Music (RCM)

Royal Northern College of Music

Sheffield Hallam University

Solent University

South Wales, University of

St Mary's University College

St Mary's University, Twickenham

Staffordshire University

Stranmillis University College

Sunderland, University of

Teesside University

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

University of the Arts London (UAL)

University College Birmingham

University for the Creative Arts (UCA)

West London, University of (UWL)

West of England, University of the (UWE)

West of Scotland, University of the

Westminster, University of

Winchester, University of

Wolverhampton, University of

Worcester, University of

Wrexham Glyndŵr University

York St John University

 

Both ballots

Aberdeen, The University of

Aberystwyth University

Aston University

Bangor University

Bath, University of

Birkbeck College, University of London

Birmingham, University of

Bradford, University of

Bristol, University of

Brunel University

Cambridge, University of

Cardiff University

City, University of London

Courtauld Institute of Art

Dundee, University of

Durham University

East Anglia, University of (UEA)

Edinburgh, University of

Essex, University of

Exeter, University of

Glasgow, University of

Goldsmiths, University of London

Heriot-Watt University

Hull, University of

Keele University

Kent, University of

King's College London (KCL)

Lancaster, University of

Leeds, University of

Leicester, University of

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Liverpool, University of

London School of Economics (LSE)

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

Loughborough University

Manchester, The University of

New York University in London

Newcastle University

Nottingham, The University of

Open University (OU)

Oxford, University of

Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL)

Queen's University of Belfast (QUB)

Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL)

Royal Veterinary College, University of London (RVC)

Salford, University of

Senate House, University of London

Sheffield, University of

SOAS, University of London (The School of Oriental and African Studies)

Southampton, University of

St Andrews, University of

St George's, University of London

Stirling, University of

Strathclyde, University of

Suffolk, University of

Surrey, University of

Sussex, University of

Swansea University

Ulster University

University College London (UCL)

University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Warwick, University of

York, University of