At the end of October, a majority of UCU (University and College Union) members voted in favour of strike actions, which have begun on Monday, 25th of November. Sixty universities across the UK, including UCL, and approximately 40,000 UCU members will be partaking in the industrial action.
The strike actions are being taken in response to two main issues: changes to the Universities’ pensions schemes, and pay disparities and working conditions. The changes to the pension scheme, known as the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), have resulted in University staff paying around £40,000 more into their pensions but getting back almost £200,000 less at time of retirement, meaning most staff stand to lose a figure of about £240,000 under the USS.
According to UCU, staff pay has decreased by 17% across the board since 2009. In addition to the overall drop in salary, the current gender pay gap is said to be around 15%, and the gap in salary between white and BME University staff of the same age, gender and experience sits at around 13%.
The UCU strikes are predicted to affect over a million students across the UK, with many classes being cancelled due to the industrial action. Students whose lecturers aren’t striking and have scheduled lessons are being encouraged not to cross the picket lines in solidarity with the staff. However, the staff and student on the picket lines are prohibited from preventing students from crossing the lines who choose to do so.
In an official FAQ on the UCL website, the University has confirmed that they ‘expect all students to attend classes where they are running’ but ‘will not penalise [students] under UCL’s attendance policy’, meaning that students who do not attend lessons during the industrial action will not see their attendance levels suffer. UCL and the Visa Compliance Team have also stated that Tier 4 visa students will not be penalised for failing to attend classes during the strikes, and they will be reported as engaging with their studies for the duration of the action. In the FAQ, UCL have also guaranteed that students ‘will not be assessed on academic content which has not been properly covered due to industrial action.’
The UCU strikes are due to continue until the end of day on Wednesday, the 4th of December.