On university campuses across the UK, picket lines are going up, lectures are being cancelled and students are being left waiting for marks as thousands of university staff launch an eight day strike.
As many as 43,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) are expected to walk out in strikes beginning on Monday.
Those going on strike include lecturers, support services staff, librarians, technicians and administrators.
Other industrial action being launched includes staff refusing to cover for absent colleagues or reschedule lectures missed because of strikes.
But what is the strike all about?
Why Are Lecturers Going On Strike?
There are three main issues university staff are striking over – pensions, pay and working conditions.
According to the UCU, its members have reached “breaking point” over their workloads, real-terms cuts in pay, a 15% gender pay gap and changes to pensions that the union says will leave members paying in more but receiving less in retirement.
The union estimated that the pension changes could leave lecturers about £240,000 worse off in retirement over their career, and up to £730,000 for professors.
It has also accused universities of employing academic staff on “discredited” zero-hours contracts.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said universities wanted to “test the mettle of staff and see if they will turn up on picket lines”.
“It is really unfortunate they have decided to do that because they are misjudging their staff. More and more people are joining the union and there is a real feeling of anger,” she said.
“There could be a second wave of strikes if we don’t get a long term, sustainable offer and universities refuse to take our concerns seriously.”
Which Universities Are Affected?
Staff at 60 universities and colleges are on strike from today, including those at Cambridge, Oxford and the Open University.
Edge Hill University, the Glasgow School of Art, the University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia will also be affected by the walk out.
The strikes will take place on five days this week, and again for three days from December 2.
Who Has Backed The Strike?
Labour’s education secretary Angela Rayner has shared her support for the staff on strike, saying fair pay, reasonable workloads and affordable pensions “should come for all those working in education”.
“It’s time for the employers to put their students first and avoid any further disruption by bringing a reasonable offer back to the negotiating table.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) has also backed the action. NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim said the union would stand with UCU members and work to build student support.
“We know that together students and workers can and will win,” she said, “and we look forward to building a better and more just education system together.”
What Do Universities Say?
Employers have already committed to working with the UCU to make long-term changes to university staff’s pension scheme.
But they also argue there has been a 50% increase in the rate of employer salary contributions over the last 10 years – from 14% in 2009 to 21.1% in 2019.
The most recent changes to pension contributions, made in March 2019, mean employers paying an extra £250m a year.
Raising employer contributions further, to 22.7% as the UCU has suggested, would cost an additional £123m on top of this, employers said – a move that would force universities to cut courses and increase class sizes.
Carol Costello, a spokesperson for the employers’ side, said: “We will do all we can to ensure the strike does not impact badly on students and staff.
“The action and claims of the UCU that employers are forcing them into this cannot go unchallenged.”
She added: “Employers are prepared to invest in our people, but unaffordable sums of money would have to be diverted from other budgets unless individual members make a fair contribution.”