Students face more disruption as unions back strike action

Students are facing disruption in every one of their three years at university as the National Union of Students (NUS) backed new lecturers’ strikes.

University staff have voted for industrial action, which could last for weeks, to start just before Christmas in a dispute over pensions.

The vote means that students starting their third year will have endured disruption in every year of their university tenure through strikes and Covid-19.

The ballot was called by the University and College Union (UCU) over cuts to the pension scheme, which they said would reduce the retirement income of their members by 35 per cent.

The move was backed on Friday by the NUS, which said it was standing “in solidarity” with lecturers as they are enduring “cruel and untenable conditions and remuneration”.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the vice-president for higher education at the NUS, said: “The sad truth is that, increasingly, staff on the ground have only seen more work for less reward.”

However, the move was attacked by the Russell Group, which said it would mean further upheaval for students only just returning back to campuses after Covid-19. 

‘This will not change the fact pension reforms are needed’

A spokesman for the group, which represents the UK’s top 24 universities, said: “Industrial action will only penalise students who are enjoying the buzz of campus life after a challenging 18 months and will not change the fact that reform is needed to ensure the USS [pension] scheme is sustainable and affordable for staff and employers.”

Third-year students have already endured disruption caused by lecturer strikes in 2018 and the winter of 2019/2020.

Covid-19 also meant they spent much of last year under lockdown and attending lectures remotely.

The new strikes are expected to take place at 37 of the 68 universities balloted, with Cambridge, Edinburgh, York, Durham and Bristol among those affected.

The UCU narrowly secured enough support to get over the legally required threshold of 50 per cent for strike action, with 53 per cent turnout for the ballot.

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the UCU, said: “These results are a clear mandate for strike action over pension cuts and should be heard loud and clear by university employers.”

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