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More misery for students as lecturers begin three-day strike action

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 01/12/2021 Eleanor Harding Education Editor For The Daily Mail
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Students will be plunged into misery today as lecturers launch a three-day strike prompted by hard-Left factions in their union.

Classes are set to be cancelled and services disrupted as staff ditch teaching to stand on picket lines across 58 campuses. Universities branded the walk-outs 'disappointing' after students already suffered months of remote learning during the pandemic.

The University and College Union (UCU) organised the strike over pay and a change to the lecturers' pension scheme. Negotiations broke down after a refusal to compromise by the 'UCU Left' faction – which is affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party.

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Last night, Universities UK – which represents vice chancellors – said the pension demands were 'unrealistic', could lead to 'insolvency' and added the UCU campaign 'is nothing more than a smokescreen for their ideologically entrenched opposition to corporate finance'.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Staff are asking for the bare minimum… but sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action.'

Universities are likely to be deluged by compensation claims from students trying to claw back refunds on their £9,250 annual fees for missed lectures.

One Open University student said last night: 'Students are left in limbo. I'm panicking because I may not be able to get the information I need [from lectures].'

The UCU said Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, wants to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme based on a 'flawed valuation'.

The union says it would mean a cut of 35 per cent to the annual retirement income of members.

In addition, pay for university staff fell by 17.6 per cent relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019, the UCU said.

The UCU is rejecting pension changes and calling for a £2,500 pay increase as well as the elimination of zero-hours contracts.

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The UUK said the strike was not representative because only 10 per cent of eligible pension members had voted in favour of it - since many are not in the union.

It also said the proposed changes to the scheme would still make it one of the most attractive in the country.

It is understood UCU had devised a counter-proposal on pensions, but this may have been blocked by two of their five negotiators, who are in the UCU Left.

Dr Hersh and Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver wrote a blog post expressing strong opposition to the plan and it was never formally presented in the negotiations.

It meant negotiations broke down, leading to strike action.

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Regarding the UCU Left negotiators, a UCU spokesman said: 'It is beyond disappointing that just as 50,000 university staff are set to walk out on strike UUK has decided to spend its time targeting individual UCU members.

'Instead of engaging in desperate 11th hour deflection tactics intended to undermine the strikes, UUK should come clean about the true impact of its pension cuts.

'After witnessing this bizarre intervention from UUK, students and staff will quite rightly ask why vice chancellors are allowing their representative body to run amok instead of negotiating positively to resolve yet another dispute in the sector.'

A UUK spokesman said: 'There is a pattern of checks on the UCU leadership by UCU Left, who are affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party.'

A UUK spokesman said of the UCU's proposal: 'Exactly why UCU refused to inform universities about their proposal, we may never know.

'But it is notable that two of UCU's pensions negotiators who are members of the influential UCU Left faction publicly undermined the proposal by expressing strong opposition to it in a blog post.

'Indeed, there is a pattern of checks on the UCU leadership by UCU Left, who are affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party.'

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