Why are lecturers going on strike? Here’s everything you need to know about the university strikes

University lecturers across the country are striking due to a dispute over their pensions

What is going on with the university strikes? Why are lecturers striking? Are strikes taking place at your university? How will students be affected by the strikes? Will students be compensated for missed lectures? How long are the strikes set to go on for?

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the next few weeks of industrial action as lecturers fight cuts to their pension schemes, so here is everything you need to know about the upcoming strikes.

Why are lecturers striking?

Firstly, it's only lecturers who belong to the University and College Union (UCU). They are angry at suggested changes to their pensions as the changes could lose them up to £10,000 a year poorer in retirement.

Over a 20-year academic career this is £200,000 – a substantial amount of money.

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How will students be affected by the strikes?

Lectures and seminars will be cancelled, lecturers will not be available to help students either in drop-in sessions or over email. At some unis, where library staff are members of the UCU, libraries will close.

Course material due to be included in exams will not be covered, but furthermore the strikes could spill over into the summer term and directly disrupt exam season.

What do the lecturers hope to achieve by striking?

By disrupting everyday university life, it is hoped the university will meet the demands of the lecturers. Students missing crucial teaching hours and potentially even missing summer exams will harm the universities reputation and cause anger amongst students.

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How long are the strikes set to go on for?

The strikes are set to take place over the next four weeks, with a total of 14 working days affected. However, the strikes could continue until June, three months longer than originally planned.

How come the strikes go on for longer than originally planned?

Plans to escalate the strikes are being discussed as the UCU as they say the current strikes are not making much progress in terms of getting their demands being met by the universities. This escalation of industrial action, that could impact summer examinations, will be decided on March 2nd.

What does striking actually involve?

Lecturers will not work on days set aside for industrial action. This means students will go without their scheduled lectures and seminars, and lecturers won't be answering emails or holding office hours.

Lecturers will instead join picket lines, hold banners and chant to get their point across.

Who are the UCU?

A British trade union, it is the largest further and higher education union in the world, representing teaching staff including 'permanent' lecturers and casualised researchers.

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Why are universities saying these changes to pension schemes are needed?

Universities UK (UUK), the representative organisation for the UK's universities, say the pension scheme currently has a deficit of £6bn and they have a legal duty to reduce this by the summer.

They say that without changes, pension contributions from not only employers (universities) but also staff would have to rise steeply. Lecturers currently pay around eight per cent of their own salary into their pension and universities put 18 per cent of the salary they pay them into the scheme.

What are universities saying will happen if the changes aren't put in place?

A continuation of the current pension scheme would mean cuts to other sorts of spending by universities. This could include teaching, research and student support. It could even lead to redundancies, according to UUK.

UUK have said that even after the proposed changes, lecturers pensions will still be competitive, with employer contributions at double the level of the average in the private sector.

Are all universities going to be affected by the strikes?

Only 64 out of 130 of the UK's universities will be affected. You can find a full list of the universities taking part in the strikes here.

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Why are only 64 universities affected?

68 universities, founded before 1992, are members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. UCU members at 64 of these unis voted in favour of the strikes over the suggested strike action.

Staff at universities founded after 1992 are members of the Teachers Pension Scheme, who are not affected by this particular dispute over pensions.

How are students feeling about the strikes?

In a poll of students last week, over half (51.8 per cent) said they supported their lecturers striking while only 29.3 per cent said they did not.

Around 80,000 students at 30 of the affected universities have signed petitions asking for compensation for the contact hours that will be missed. This is not to suggest that students aren't supportive of their lecturers striking.

Will students receive compensation for missed lectures and seminars?

Students from England who pay £9,250 a year do have rights under consumer law, so could potentially sue universities for contact hours missed due to the strikes. It is so far unclear to what extent these rights apply to industrial disputes.

Amazing turn out in support of the strike today! Music and student provided tea, coffee and cake helped keep away the cold.

Posted by Warwick University UCU on Thursday, February 22, 2018

What have the government said about it?

The new universities minister, Sam Gyimah, has said it is up to individual institutions whether they paid compensation but that students also have rights that should be considered.

How are international students being affected?

With strikes potentially affecting exam season, some fear they may not be able to finish their studies before their visas run out. This is especially worrying as the majority of international students pay their tuition fees up front.

Will either side give in?

Currently it looks unlikely.

UUK dispute the claims of how much lecturers are set to lose under the changes but the UCU say the proposed changes to the scheme are "recklessly prudent" and want the evaluation to be redone.

However, both sides have said they are keen to continue negotiations.

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