Staff at Newcastle and Northumbria University have voted in favour of strikes

Here’s a breakdown of everything we know about the potential industrial action coming this semester

Students at both Newcastle and Northumbria could be hit with yet more disruption to their studies after both universities voted in favour of strike action this term.

After failing to ballot a majority of members last year, university academics were re-balloted by The University and College Union (UCU), with a majority now voting in favour of strike action.

Members of UCU at Newcastle University voted in favour of strike action over both pensions and pay, whilst Northumbria has a mandate for pay only.

Strikes have impacted Newcastle University students yearly since 2018, with the largest period of union action taking place for 14 days in late 2019.

At Northumbria, industrial action mandates were passed over Covid-19 safety concerns in 2020, making this the second vote in favour of strike action against the university in 14 months.

The strikes will have a significant impact on current students; action means cancelled lectures, absent lecturers and cut contact with university staff over the strike period. The news will come as an additional blow to third and fourth-year students who have incurred previous periods of missed teaching, and who now potentially face another interval of cuts to their education. 

A total of 68 universities across the UK,  could face strike action this academic term. UCU has warned that if ongoing issues around pay and pensions cannot be resolved then more strikes will take place this semester. 

10 other universities voted in favour of strikes after a re-ballot. The union is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle overly-demanding workloads, pay inequality and uncertain contracts across the sector.

A re-ballot was held after several branches narrowly missed the government’s controversial trade union turnout threshold of 50 per cent, in some cases by only one or two votes. Both Newcastle and Northumbria University were part of those who successfully re-balloted.

Last year, Newcastle University offered final year students between £100 to £200 in compensation on the condition that three or more of their modules had been affected by industrial action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Employers, who have demonstrated super-human levels of intransigence during these disputes, have no one else to blame but themselves for the position the sector finds itself in.”

“We truly hope that further disruption can be avoided – that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers who simply need to revoke their devastating pension cuts and take long-overdue action over deteriorating pay and working conditions.”

Meetings of UCU branches and UCU’s Higher Education Committee will be taking place this week to plan the next steps and create dates for action.

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “We were notified on Tuesday that the University and College Union (UCU) ballots for industrial action in relation to the disputes around USS pensions and pay were passed by members and are now waiting for further information from UCU.

“We know that decisions to undertake industrial action are not taken lightly. However, we are extremely disappointed by this result. Coming on the back of the ongoing disruptions created by Covid-19, the impact of any industrial action will be significant for both students and colleagues who are not part of the action and we will be making every effort to minimise the disruption.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria University also said: “We are aware of the result of the Northumbria UCU branch’s re-ballot. It is deeply regrettable that a minority of UCU members and a small minority of our academic colleagues have voted for industrial action.

“Our students have suffered enough over the period of the pandemic and do not deserve to have the threat of further disruption hanging over them. This is a national dispute and as yet we have not been informed as to what action may be taken and when.

“If action is taken however, Northumbria University is determined to minimise the impact on our hard working students and will continue to deliver the education that they deserve. Discussions will continue with UCU within the national negotiating framework.”

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