Universities are facing fresh strike threats after a major union opened a statutory industrial action ballot.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland University Lecturers’ Association (EIS-ULA) are being asked for their support in a long-running dispute over pay.

The union's proposed response includes a programme of action up to and including strikes.

EIS bosses said the move followed protracted talks at New JNCHES, the UK-wide negotiating body for remuneration in the higher education sector. They have also accused the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) of imposing an offer that, for most academic staff who are EIS members, amounts to a 1.5 per cent uplift and would mark a real-terms cut once inflation is taken into account.

However, UCEA leaders said industrial action would be an "unrealistic" attempt to force the reopening of an already concluded national pay round.  

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It comes as UK campuses prepare for strikes at the start of next month after the University and College Union (UCU) said members would stop work over pension cuts, pay and working conditions.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS has been left with little option but to ballot our members in the higher education sector, as a result of entrenched intransigence from the UCEA employers’ group.

“The differentiated offer imposed by the employers amounts to a 1.5% pay award for most EIS-ULA members – in effect, a significant real-terms pay cut for hard-working lecturing staff. This follows the real terms pay cuts of the sub-inflationary award imposed in 2019 and a pay freeze imposed in 2020.

“The employers have now imposed the 2021-22 pay offer too - breaking the principle of negotiating pay - despite ongoing disputes with the EIS and other unions representing higher education staff.”

READ MORE: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Stirling universities to strike in December over pay and pensions

Mr Flanagan added: “The employers have refused a trade union request to convene a Scottish subcommittee of New JNCHES. This means that there is no sector collective bargaining forum in Scotland – which breaches the Scottish Government’s Fair Work aims.

"It is time for an element of collective bargaining to be introduced in Scotland, like that for school teachers and college lecturers.

“I would urge all EIS-ULA members to use their vote in this important ballot, and to vote in favour of industrial action in pursuit of a fair pay deal for Higher Education staff. As the EIS has recently demonstrated with the pay dispute at Scotland’s Rural College, industrial action can help to facilitate a fair deal in the interests of institutions, staff and students.”

Raj Jethwa, UCEA's Chief Executive, said: "The long-waited decision made by EIS-ULA is disappointing for the Scottish higher educations institutions (HEIs) that may now face industrial action targeting students over the outcome of the 2021-22 JNCHES pay round. This decision by EIS-ULA follows three months since the base pay increases and six months after UCEA’s final pay offer. UCEA’s final pay offer, made at the beginning of May, guaranteed increases of base pay between 3.6% and 1.5%. This uplift was implemented by Scottish HEIs in August in line with the existing bargaining agreement between trade unions and employers.

“The New JNCHES agreement currently provides a collective bargaining forum on pay for staff and HEIs in Scotland. EIS members need to understand that any industrial action aimed at harming students is an unrealistic attempt to try to force all 146 UK employers to re-open the concluded 2021-22 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.”