University unions call off strike after agreeing on pension dispute

Academics at scores of UK universities are expected to return to work on Wednesday after their union and an employers’ group reached agreement on a pension dispute that has caused days of strike action.

The agreement between the University and College Union and Universities UK was announced on Monday evening after a week of negotiations at Acas, the conciliation service.

The settlement, which will have to be approved by UCU members, means the union will now almost certainly not go ahead with plans, announced last week, to disrupt final exams with a series of strikes between April and June.

Members of the UCU at 64 institutions including Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Imperial College London had been striking over UUK’s plans to end the defined benefit element of their pension scheme. UUK had said that was necessary to eliminate the £6.1bn deficit in the Universities Superannuation Scheme, one of the UK’s biggest pension funds.

The two sides agreed to a three-year “transitional arrangement”, starting in April next year, during which both sides will make higher contributions to pensions. They will also seek a new valuation of the pension scheme to inform their options once the transition period expires in 2022.

UCU undertook to encourage their members to reschedule classes that had been missed during the industrial action. Members had been due to strike all five working days this week as the culmination to a programme of 14 days of industrial action. However, assuming academics return to work on Wednesday, 11 days of work will still have been lost.

Neither side made any statement beyond publishing the heads of agreement.