Image: Flickr / John Geoffrey Walker

New strikes begin amidst concerns over learning disruptions

Staff members from universities around the UK initiated a 10-day strike on Monday 14 February.

Among the 68 participating universities are prestigious institutions such as the University of St. Andrews, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Leeds. This comes in response to the decision to cut the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). 

The University and College Union (UCU) reports that this could lead to a loss of 35% in pension each year of retirement. The union calls for pensions to increase from 21.4% of salary to 29.1% by April of 2024. 

Martine Van Ittersum, a lecturer at the University of Dundee said: “These people literally don’t care what happens after I turn 65, we’re just going to be disposed of like an old rag.”

However, a representative of the USS says that asking universities to pay higher pensions could lead to a “significant and detrimental impact on the sector’s collective ability to deliver high-quality education and research.”

On some university campuses such as the University of Cambridge, students joined their professors on the picket lines to show solidarity, even going as far as to provide tea and coffee for the strikers.

It is deeply irresponsible for unions to be calling for strikes now, after students have already missed so much face-to-face teaching from their universities

– Michelle Donelan

Other parties have raised concerns on how the strikes could impede education. A poll from more than 2000 higher-education students indicates that 52% are behind in their studies due to disruptions from the pandemic.

On top of the previous strikes that have occurred in the past year, one million students could be further hindered in their education if their lecturers choose to strike again.

The Higher Education Minister, Michelle Donelan, said: “It is deeply irresponsible for unions to be calling for strikes now after students have already missed so much face-to-face teaching from their universities.

“Good quality, face-to-face teaching is what students deserve and expect, and I urge all sides to work constructively together so that this can be delivered for them as soon as possible. I hope most staff will think twice before making students pay the price.”

A spokesperson for the University of St. Andrews said: “We hope that those staff who choose to exercise their right to take industrial action do so in ways which reflect their deep commitment to our student community.”

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