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University lecturers threaten strike over pay in new blow to pandemic-hit students

 Universities have 'three weeks to save term', lecturers are warning as they threaten to strike in a fresh blow to long-suffering students.

The University and College Union (UCU) says academic staff could walk out before Christmas if bosses fail to meet their demands.

It could mean weeks of cancelled lectures for students, who have already endured almost two years of disruption and online learning due to the pandemic.

The proposed strike follows a long-running dispute over pay, conditions and changes to the lecturers' pension scheme.

University bosses yesterday maintained staff would still have 'one of the most attractive pension schemes in the country' even after the changes.

The UCU is currently balloting thousands of lecturers at 150 universities – including Oxford and Cambridge – over the walk-outs. They will vote in the next few weeks on whether to launch industrial action this term. The union expects a big vote in favour of the action.

The University and College Union (UCU) says academic staff could walk out before Christmas if bosses fail to meet their demands. It could mean weeks of cancelled lectures for students, who have already endured almost two years of disruption and online learning due to the pandemic

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'University staff are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been thanked with massive cuts to their pensions, collapsing pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts.

'Industrial action can easily be avoided if employers withdraw their disgraceful pension cuts and make credible offers on pay and working conditions. Employers have three weeks to sort this out. If they don't, the blame for any disruption will fall squarely at their feet.'

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) for pensions is run in collaboration with Universities UK (UUK), the professional body for vice chancellors.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady (pictured) said: 'University staff are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been thanked with massive cuts to their pensions, collapsing pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts'

Miss Grady said UUK had proposed to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff, based on a 'flawed valuation' of the scheme. She said it would mean someone currently aged 37 earning £41,526 – the starting salary for a lecturer in many institutions – will go on to build up an annual guaranteed pension of £12,170 if they continue to work full time in the sector until age 66.

This compares with the £18,857 annual income which they would build up under the current arrangement. The same 35 per cent cut would also apply to the guaranteed cash lump sum which the member would receive when they retire, she added.

In addition, pay for university staff fell by 17.6 per cent relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019, Miss Grady said. As well as rejecting the pension changes, the UCU is calling for a £2,500 pay increase, elimination of zero-hours contracts, and action to tackle unmanageable workloads.

As well as rejecting the pension changes, the UCU is calling for a £2,500 pay increase, elimination of zero-hours contracts, and action to tackle unmanageable workloads. A UUK spokesman said students do not deserve any further disruption after a difficult 18 months (stock image)

A UUK spokesman said: 'The proposed reforms secure USS' status as one of the most attractive pension schemes in the country, and eliminate the need for massive contribution rises that would severely reduce pay and force employers to make cutbacks in other budgets.

'After a difficult 18 months, students do not deserve any further disruption. It is unclear why UCU thinks it's appropriate for students to suffer.'