SOME 7000 staff across 12 of Scotland's key universities are preparing to stage an eight-day strike in disputes over pay, conditions and pensions.

They are month 43,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 60 UK universities who will walk out from next Monday, disrupting lectures in the run up to the Christmas break.

Members of the UCU at 12 Scottish institutes will walk out from Monday to Wednesday December 4, along with 48 other universities across the UK.

The UCU have warned further industrial action is possible if agreements cannot be reached.

The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and issues including a failure to improve pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

READ MORE: College students face disruption as lecturers go back on strike

Universities affected include Heriot-Watt University, University of Aberdeen, University of Dundee, University of Stirling, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow School of Art, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.

HeraldScotland: The University of Glasgow

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was "frustrated" that members had to be balloted again, but that universities' refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Picket lines will be mounted across the country, protests will be held and other forms of industrial action will be launched including not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

Those on strike include lecturers, student support services staff, admissions tutors, librarians, technicians and administrators, with the action affecting over a million students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady warned that a second wave of strikes could be held in the new year if the deadlocked disputes remain unresolved.

Staff had reached "breaking point" over a number of issues, including workloads, real-terms cuts in pay, a 15% gender pay gap and changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the union says will leave members paying in more and receiving less in retirement.

READ MORE: Lecturers attack £124,000 salary of new Scottish college principal

Many universities were also employing academic staff on "discredited" zero hours contracts, said the union.

"The employers seem to want to test the mettle of staff and see if they will turn up on picket lines," Ms Grady told a press conference in London.

"It is really unfortunate they have decided to do that because they are misjudging their staff. More and more people are joining the union and there is a real feeling of anger.

"There could be a second wave of strikes if we don't get a long term, sustainable offer and universities refuse to take our concerns seriously."

The union estimated that the pension changes could leave lecturers around £240,000 worse off in retirement over their career, and up to £730,000 for professors.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

Eight universities are involved in both disputes: Heriot-Watt, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Strathclyde.

Three institutes – Glasgow Caledonian, Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University – are only part of the pay and conditions dispute.

The Scottish Association of Marine Science is also only in the USS pensions dispute.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks.

She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK, said: “In recent months, employers have taken significant steps to protect the value of both pensions and pay because we care about our dedicated and talented staff.

“Universities will do all they can to minimise the impact of any strike action on students, their other staff and the wider community and they know that their colleagues contemplating strike action will want this too.  We sincerely hope UCU will see the merit in working with employers on joint and fair solutions.”

Professor Mark E. Smith, chairman of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association added: “The universities represented in both these sets of negotiations have shown that they place a high value on their employees and have increased their investment in both pay and pensions to continue to offer fair pay and excellent pensions benefits as part of a national, sector-wide framework."