University strikes: Why staff across the UK are taking industrial action

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Dr Robyn OrfitelliImage source, BBC/ Hazel Shearing

Tens of thousands of staff at 150 universities across the UK are striking again in February and March.

The action is being taken over pay, working conditions and pension cuts.

When are university staff striking?

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will go on strike on 18 days between February and March:

  • 1 February - when train drivers, civil servants and some teachers are also planning to strike
  • 9 and 10 February
  • 14, 15 and 16 February
  • 21, 22 and 23 February
  • 27 and 28 February
  • 1 and 2 March
  • 16 and 17 March
  • 20, 21 and 22 March

The union also said it would re-ballot staff at all 150 universities. That could see the dispute extend well into 2023 if the support for strikes continues.

Academic staff and those in other professional roles including administrators, librarians and technicians are taking part.

Staff walked out on three strike days in November, and some universities also took part in strike action earlier in 2022 and in 2021.

That also included industrial action short of a strike, such as not covering for absent colleagues, refusing to make up for work lost to strike action and working to rule.

Were lectures cancelled?

The Universities and College Employers Association (UCEA) said there was little disruption during strikes in November.

Universities UK (UUK), which represents 140 institutions, said some universities extended coursework deadlines and rescheduled teaching.

If students feel the measures put in place aren't good enough, they can complain using their university's complaints procedure.

The UCU said 70,000 staff took part in the action in November, and that they were "overwhelmed by the support of thousands of students" who joined picket lines.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Some students are supporting staff in their strike over pensions, pay and conditions

Why are university staff striking?

Some are striking over pay and conditions, others over pensions. Some are striking over both.

On pay, the union has demanded:

  • a pay rise worth either the RPI measure of inflation +2%, or 12% - whichever is the higher
  • action to end the use of zero hours and temporary contracts
  • action to tackle "excessive workloads" resulting in hours of "unpaid work"

The UCU said it was offered a pay deal worth between 4% and 5% on 11 January, but that was "not enough". The new strike action was announced the following day.

The dispute over pensions began more than a decade ago, but was reignited by the revaluation of the pension scheme used by academic staff - the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The union says this valuation was "flawed" because it took place at the start of the pandemic, "when global markets were crashing", and recorded a deficit of £14.1bn.

Changes were introduced which meant pension contributions increased and future benefits were reduced.

According to the union, the average member "will lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income". For those at the beginning of their careers, "the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds". It says the scheme was more recently found to have a surplus of £1.8bn.

The union is demanding that employers restore staff pension benefits.

How much do lecturers get paid?

Every year, a committee including trade union and employer representatives meets and decides on any changes to university workers' pay.

Most universities opt in to the negotiations, but they don't have to - they can make their own decisions.

The 22/23 pay scale was implemented in August 2022.

The median salary for a professor is around £80,000, according to analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency figures carried out by the UCEA employers' body. Some 25% of professor salaries are at or below around £70,000, the UCEA says.

However, the UCU says a third of academic staff are on temporary contracts and are paid hourly.

It says that casual staff only get holiday entitlement based on the hours they work and have inadequate paid time to prepare for their classes.

Staff titles vary across institutions, and universities employ staff on different types of temporary contracts. Some academics say their salary is substantially less than the figures quoted.

What do university employers say?

The UCEA says any increase in pay "puts jobs at risk". Some 30% of universities are already in deficit.

It says the August deal provided "an uplift of up to 9% for those on the lowest points" of the pay scale, and a 3% increase for all other staff. Many also benefited from annual pay increments.

On pensions, Universities UK said it is working with the union ahead of the next pension scheme valuation.

It said that without the changes in pension benefits which have been introduced, employees would have had to pay much more in contributions.

Which universities are striking?

In total, 62 universities will see strikes over both pay and conditions and pensions:

  • Aberdeen, The University of
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • Bath, University of
  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • Birmingham, The University of
  • Bradford, University of
  • Bristol, University of
  • Brunel University
  • Cambridge, University of
  • Cardiff University
  • City, University of London
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Dundee, The University of
  • Durham University
  • East Anglia, University of
  • Edinburgh, University of
  • Essex, University of
  • Exeter, University of
  • Glasgow, University of
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Hull, The University of
  • Keele University
  • Kent, The University of
  • King's College London
  • Lancaster, University of
  • Leeds, The University of
  • Leicester, University of
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Liverpool, University of
  • London School of Economics
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Loughborough University
  • Manchester, The University of
  • Newcastle University
  • Nottingham, The University of
  • Open University
  • Oxford, University of
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Royal Veterinary College, University of London
  • Salford, The University of
  • Senate House, University of London
  • Sheffield, The University of
  • SOAS, University of London
  • Southampton, University of
  • St Andrews, University of
  • St George's, University of London
  • Stirling, The University of
  • Strathclyde, University of
  • Suffolk, University of
  • Surrey, University of
  • Sussex, University of
  • Swansea University
  • Ulster University
  • University College London
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David
  • Warwick, University of
  • York, University of

Five will see strikes over pensions only:

  • Cranfield University
  • Imperial College London
  • Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
  • Reading, University of
  • SAMS at University of the Highlands and Islands

Another 83 will see strikes over pay and working conditions only:

  • Abertay University
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Arts University Bournemouth
  • Bath Spa University
  • Bedfordshire, University of
  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Bolton, The University of
  • Bournemouth University
  • Brighton, University of
  • Buckinghamshire New University
  • Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University
  • Central Lancashire, University of
  • Chester, University of
  • Chichester, University of
  • Coventry University
  • Cumbria, University of
  • De Montfort University
  • Derby, University of
  • East London, University of
  • Edge Hill University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Falmouth University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Gloucestershire, University of
  • Greenwich, University of
  • Harper Adams University
  • Hertfordshire, University of
  • Huddersfield, The 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
  • London Metropolitan University
  • London South Bank University
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Middlesex University
  • Newman University
  • Northampton, The University of
  • Northumbria University
  • Norwich University of the Arts
  • 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
  • Royal Agricultural University
  • Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  • Royal College of Art
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • Solent University
  • South Wales, University of
  • St Mary's University College, Belfast
  • St Mary's University, Twickenham
  • Staffordshire University
  • Stranmillis University College
  • Sunderland, University of
  • Teesside, University of
  • Trinity Laban
  • UCA University for the Creative Arts
  • University College Birmingham
  • University of the Arts London
  • West London, University of
  • West of England, University of the
  • West of Scotland, University of the
  • Westminster, University of
  • Winchester, The University of
  • Wolverhampton, University of
  • Worcester, University of
  • Wrexham Glyndwr University
  • Writtle University College
  • York St John University

Correction 25 January 2023: This article was amended with revised figures for professors' salaries after we received clarification from UCEA.

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