More than 70,000 lecturers at universities across UK begin strikes

More than 70,000 lecturers at 153 universities across UK begin three-day strikes TODAY – while EVERY school in Scotland is shut as teachers walk out in first national pay strike in nearly 40 years

  • The strikes will impact 2.5 million students as around 70,000 staff walk out 
  • University bosses said one in 10 pension scheme members voted for the strike
  • It follows lecturers’ strikes in 2018, 2019, 2021 and February earlier this year 
  • Almost every school in Scotland is closed today as teachers walk out over pay  

Around 2.5 million students are having classes disrupted as 70,000 lecturers and university staff hold their biggest-ever strike today and vow not to reschedule any cancelled classes, while almost every school in Scotland shuts as teachers walk out.

University and College Union (UCU) members have walked out at 153 universities over pay, conditions and pensions today, and will also strike tomorrow and next Wednesday.

Classes are expected to be cancelled and libraries may close, with strikers refusing to reschedule missed work or provide online catch-up as pickets are set up across the country.

Meanwhile, every school on the Scottish mainland is shut as thousands of teachers picket their workplaces and members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) demand a higher pay packet, with warnings of more strikes to come. 

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville warned the Scottish Government’s budget is under ‘extreme pressure’ and the 10 per cent rise demanded is ‘unaffordable’ after a last-ditch offer was made in a bid to avert the strike.

But Andrea Bradley, the union’s general secretary, dismissed the latest proposal, in which the lowest-paid staff receive a 6.85 per cent increase with most getting a 5 per cent rise as ‘simply a lazy reheating of the offer that our members have already rejected’.

More than 70,000 lecturers and other staff at 150 universities have walked out on strike today

Around 2.5 million students are being impacted by the strikes, but the National Union of Students supports it. Pictured: A protest outside the University of Glasgow 

The lecturers’ walk out is the latest strike to hit the UK as workers demand higher wages an better conditions amid the cost of living crisis 

‘Such a pathetic, divisive offer will never be acceptable to the EIS or to Scotland’s teachers, and Scotland’s teachers will be out in force today – on picket lines outside schools and at pay campaign rallies across Scotland – to demonstrate clearly their outrage and their determination to secure a much-improved, genuinely fair pay settlement from Cosla and the Scottish Government,’ she said.

University bosses condemned the lecturers’ strike across the UK, saying only one in ten pension scheme members had actually voted in favour of it.

It is not clear how many lessons will be impacted as the UCU does not have to say how many members are taking part in the strike.  

They pledged to lay on ‘replacement teaching, specific tutorials and access to online resources’ to help students and make mitigations in exams.

It comes after students endured months of online learning during the pandemic plus other lecturers’ strikes in 2018, 2019, 2021 and in February this year.

The second largest-ever strike was in 2006, when 60,000 staff walked out.

The Left-wing National Union of Students is supporting the strike despite the blow to its own members.

Around 100 people stood in a picket line outside the main entrance to the University of Manchester, with more picket lines dotted around the entrances of other buildings on the campus.

David Swanson, branch president of the University and College Union at the university, said: ‘We have a large amount of issues in higher education. Pay has fallen by something like 25 per cent in the last 12 years. There’s a large amount of job insecurity, 50 per cent of staff are on fixed term contracts. We have huge problems with workload.

‘We are not prepared to be taken for mugs any more.’

Mr Swanson, who works in the education department, training maths teachers, said he believed around 80 per cent of UCU members were in favour of strikes, with around 2,000 members working at the university.

He blamed the way higher education is run and management of universities for the dispute, adding: ‘They have been taken over by people who just want to make money.

‘They don’t care what students think, they don’t care what staff think, they are in their own bubble.’

The strike is the largest ever organised by university lecturers and staff, following years of disputes with their employers 

Lecturers stage a protest over pay and pensions today outside the University of Birmingham 

University staff in Sheffield on the picket line in the first strike day of three in the next week 

A picket line outside a primary school in Edinburgh as teachers walk out across the country

The University and College Union (UCU), which is behind the action, said if demands are not met there will be further strikes in the New Year.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘University staff are taking the biggest strike action in the history of higher education.

‘They have had enough of falling pay, pension cuts and gig-economy working conditions – all whilst vice-chancellors enjoy lottery win salaries and live it up in their grace and favour mansions.

‘Staff are burnt out, but they are fighting back and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill.’

Postal workers latest to strike 

Postal workers have gathered for a picket outside a Royal Mail delivery office.

A small group of members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) were at the scene in Camden, north London, with banners and flags from 6.30am on Thursday.

A few drivers entering the delivery office beeped and waved to show their support.

NUS Vice President Higher Education Chloe Field said: ‘Students stand in solidarity with university staff going on strike.

‘Staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and for more than a decade both have come under attack from a sector that puts profits above education.’

On pay and working conditions, the union is calling for a ‘meaningful’ pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and action to end the use of ‘insecure’ contracts.

The union said employers imposed a below-inflation pay award this year.

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers revoke a ‘package of cuts’ made earlier this year which it claims will see the average union member lose 35 per cent from their guaranteed future retirement income.

As part of the UCU’s industrial action, they have also asked all members to ‘work to contract’.

In addition, they will ‘not cover for absent colleagues’; ‘refuse to reschedule classes missed due to industrial action’; and ‘remove materials for classes that would have taken place on strike days from online learning platforms.’

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, said the university pension scheme was ‘among the most generous in the private sector’.

They added: ‘The employer contributions of 21.6 per cent of salary are around three times higher than the average employer contribution rate among the FTSE 250 companies.’

Professor Steve West, president of UUK, said it was ‘disappointing’ the union had voted for strike action.

‘Of course, it is students who stand to suffer,’ he added.

‘We understand that strike action is the last thing students want after the disruption they have faced because of the pandemic and from previous industrial action.

‘This may be a worrying time for them, they may feel anxious about possible disruption.

‘But I would send this message; universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and we are all working hard to put in place a series of measures to ensure this.’

He added that libraries, computer rooms, students services and IT support will be available throughout the industrial action.

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