Edinburgh University saves over £64,000 per day during strike action

The money staff would have been paid goes into a university fund

The University of Edinburgh saved an average of £64,841 per day of strike action last academic year, the Edinburgh Tab can reveal.

Throughout the 2021-22 year, cancelled salary payments for striking staff meant the university withheld a total of £1.16 million over 18 days of strike action, according to figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request.

The data does not include many staff who are employed on casual Guaranteed Hours contracts, who account for 12.8 per cent of teaching staff nationally and many of whom participate in strike action.

This is an increase from saving an average of £57,000 per day of strike action in the previous academic year.

Edinburgh University says it agreed with unions to withhold staff pay on strike days back in 2018, and that it has “reinvested the money from pay foregone by staff on strike back into the university to enhance the overall student experience”.

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has been undertaking industrial action due to low wages, pension cuts, and poor working conditions every year since 2018. Strikes across the country, including at Edinburgh, have continued into 2022-23 with nine strike days so far, and more planned for March.

The amount of money saved on each strike day depends on how many staff walk out, and therefore how many lose their day’s wages.

The data reveals the greatest proportion of savings were made during the first period of strike action in December 2021, averaging at approximately £82,000 per day. The average figure fell to £58,800 per day for the final strike round in March 2022.

The findings concur with anecdotal evidence from students at Edinburgh Uni, who report that their tutors began to resume their teaching later in the year as they were not able to absorb the loss of 18 days of pay.

The money Edinburgh retains from unpaid wages is put into a Learning Opportunity Fund, which allows students affected by strikes to claim money back for lost teaching days. The fund paid out more than £289,000 from strikes that took place in November 2022 alone and has received over 1000 applications in 2023.

The maximum grant payable per student through the fund is £350. The university says “the money can be used for things like conferences, short courses, and online courses and is allocated on a first come first served basis” until the funds are exhausted.

University teaching unions recently suspended a set of forthcoming strike dates over the period from the 20th of February until the 2nd of March due to progress in negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.

The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said in a statement: “The university sector in the UK has over £40bn sitting in reserves, but instead of using that vast wealth to deliver a cost-of-living pay rise and reverse devastating pension cuts, university vice-chancellors would rather force staff to take strike action and see campuses shut down”.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “Withholding pay due to staff taking part in industrial action was collectively agreed with UCU, UNISON and Unite in 2018. As in previous years where industrial action has taken place, we have reinvested the money from pay foregone by staff on strike back into the University to enhance the overall student experience. This includes a Learning Opportunity Fund. Students whose classes have been affected by strike action can apply for a payment from this fund for a variety of learning opportunities”.

UCU Edinburgh has been approached for comment.

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