UK university strike action to end after staff vote to accept offer | Education

The strike action that hit 65 universities across the UK this year is to end after staff voted to accept an offer to reopen negotiations with employers over their pensions.

The ballot of 50,000 University and College Union members in higher education found a two-to-one majority in favour of accepting the offer, which establishes a joint committee of experts to look at staff pensions provided through the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).

There was a high turnout of nearly two-thirds of eligible members, with 64% voting to accept the offer from Universities UK. A second wave of strikes due to begin next week has been suspended.

Fourteen days of teaching were lost to strikes on 65 campuses, with fears that further action in the coming term would disrupt final examinations and mean that students on some courses might be unable to graduate.

The strike centred on a radical overhaul of the USS – the country’s largest private sector pension scheme with 400,000 members at 67 universities and colleges, as well as 300 specialist institutions such as the Royal Society and Cancer Research UK.

Staff anger was triggered by a decision in January in favour of the employers that would have ended the scheme’s defined benefits – guaranteed levels of payment to members upon retirement.

Instead, the fixed benefits would be replaced by defined contributions, in which members would pay in but their eventual pension payments would be dictated by their level of payment and the state of financial markets at retirement.

UCU members, including librarians, technicians and administrators as well as lecturers and researchers, voted by 88% in favour of strike action that began in February. The first offer by Universities UK to end the strike in March was roundly rejected by UCU.

The Office for Students – the universities regulator in England – has told universities to make clear to students what the impact of the industrial action will be and how any related disruption will be handled.

Universities UK said the decision to appoint an expert panel and suspend industrial action would reassure students that their summer exams would not be affected.

“It is important that interested parties engage with the panel and remain open-minded about its possible findings,” a UUK spokesperson said.

“Working in partnership with UCU, we will now appoint a jointly agreed chair for the panel as soon as possible before developing its terms of reference, order of work and timescales.”

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “The union has come a very long way since January when it seemed that the employers’ proposals for a defined contribution pension were to be imposed.

“Now we have agreement to move forward jointly, looking again at the USS valuation alongside a commitment from the employers to a guaranteed, defined benefit scheme.

“We hope this important agreement will hearten workers across the UK fighting to defend their pension rights and was won through the amazing strike action of UCU members.”

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