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University strikes: 50,000 staff begin three-day strike at 58 universities over pay and pensions

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Students are facing yet more disruption to their learning today with more than 50,000 university staff beginning a three day strike.

Classes are being cancelled and services disrupted at universities due to the strike, which began today at 58 campuses up and down the country.

More than a million students, who have already faced huge disruption to their learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be impacted by the strikes.

University chiefs have blamed ‘uncompromising hard left’ union barons who they claim have made ‘unrealistic demands’ for a better pay and pension deal.

The University and College Union (UCU), who have organised the strikes, say staff are asking for the ‘bare minimum’.

It comes as pictures today show university staff from the union on picket lines outside Birmingham University.

One person was seen carrying a placard with the phrase ‘We’re at breaking point’, while another’s sign said: ‘This strike is brought to you courtesy of UoB senior management.’ 

Students are facing yet more disruption to their learning today with more than 50,000 university staff - including lecturers - beginning a three day strike. Pictured: A picket line at Birmingham University today

Students are facing yet more disruption to their learning today with more than 50,000 university staff – including lecturers – beginning a three day strike. Pictured: A picket line at Birmingham University today

Classes are being cancelled and services disrupted at universities due to the strike, which began today at 58 campuses up and down the country. Pictured: Pickets outside a Cambridge University building

Classes are being cancelled and services disrupted at universities due to the strike, which began today at 58 campuses up and down the country. Pictured: Pickets outside a Cambridge University building

Pickets were also seen today outside Queen's University, Belfast, where strikes are also taking place

Pickets were also seen today outside Queen’s University, Belfast, where strikes are also taking place

A picket line was also set up outside a University of Cambridge building earlier today.  Another group were seen holding a banner saying: ‘The longer the picket… the shorter the strike.’

Pickets were also seen today outside Queen’s University, Belfast, where strikes are also taking place.

Last night, Universities UK – which represents vice chancellors – said the pension demands were ‘unrealistic’ in their demands.

They said agreeing to the pay and pensions deal put forward by the UCU could lead to ‘insolvency’.

And they claimed the UCU campaign is ‘nothing more than a smokescreen for their ideologically entrenched opposition to corporate finance’. 

The group said lecturers who were walking out had been captured by the hard left faction of the Universities and College Union (UCU) – the UCU Left’ faction – which is affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party.

However UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff are asking for the bare minimum… but sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action.’

Ms Grady has warned that more industrial action could take place in the spring if the row with employers remains unresolved. 

A picket line was also set up outside a University of Cambridge building earlier today. Another group were seen holding a banner saying: 'The longer the picket... the shorter the strike.'

A picket line was also set up outside a University of Cambridge building earlier today. Another group were seen holding a banner saying: ‘The longer the picket… the shorter the strike.’

Last night, Universities UK – which represents vice chancellors – said the pension demands were ‘unrealistic’ in their demands. Pictured: Cambridge University staff picket outside the Haddon Library in Cambridge

Last night, Universities UK – which represents vice chancellors – said the pension demands were ‘unrealistic’ in their demands. Pictured: Cambridge University staff picket outside the Haddon Library in Cambridge

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff are asking for the bare minimum… but sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action.’ Pictured: Cambridge University staff picket outside the Senate House in Cambridge

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff are asking for the bare minimum… but sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action.’ Pictured: Cambridge University staff picket outside the Senate House in Cambridge

Staff at the Queen's University, Belfast, taking part in a three day strike action over pay, conditions and pensions

Staff at the Queen’s University, Belfast, taking part in a three day strike action over pay, conditions and pensions

According to the Times, Universities UK was criticising the demands made in an open letter published on a blog and UUK said two academics from the the ‘UCU Left faction’ had refused to agree to a compromise proposal on pensions.

One of the union’s key negotiators was Dr Marion Hersh, a senior lecturer in biomedical engineering at Glasgow University who is against ‘marketisation’ and has spoken about ‘decolonising’ the curriculum. 

Another academic linked to the blog post is Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver, an adviser to regulators and banks and a lecturer in governance, regulation and risk at Henley Business School, part of Reading University. 

Members of the UCU will walk out between Wednesday and Friday following votes in favour of industrial action on two separate disputes. 

Overall, 76 per cent of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions.

In the ballot on pay and conditions, 70 per cent of members backed strike action.

People at Queen Mary University London after members of the University and College Union began an eight-day strike in rows over pay, conditions and pension back in November 2019

People at Queen Mary University London after members of the University and College Union began an eight-day strike in rows over pay, conditions and pension back in November 2019

As well as the three strike days, union members will begin other forms of industrial action from December 1, including working to contract and refusing any additional duties.  

The UCU claims that cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35 per cent.

The union held a series of walkouts in 2019 and early 2020 over pensions, pay and conditions, which affected universities across the UK. There was also strike action in 2018 amid a row over pensions. 

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