Two-thirds of UCU branches pull out of nationwide strikes

Several major universities face disruption at start of the academic year but appetite for taking action begins to fragment

September 22, 2023
Source: iStock

Only a third of UK universities will now face strikes planned to disrupt the start of the new academic year, with the University and College Union (UCU) claiming the action will “target the very worst employers”.

Walk-outs had been called by the union at 140 universities as part of its long-running dispute over pay and working conditions but branches were unusually given the option to opt out of the national action.

A list published by the UCU ahead of the first strike date on 25 September showed 42 universities will still be hit by five days of action, with a further 10 seeing strikes on at least one day.

Institutions where strikes are going ahead include the universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield. The University of Glasgow, Durham University and Oxford Brookes University are among those that will only be impacted for a single day.

UCU branches at UCL, the London School of Economics and the universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Warwick were among those opting not to take part.

The fragmentation of the strikes comes after the end of a five-month marking boycott that disrupted thousands of students’ plans to graduate or progress in their studies but failed to secure an increase in pay beyond the 5 to 8 per cent rise already implemented by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea).

UCU has launched a new ballot of members on taking action in 2024 and it said the strikes had been called off to allow branches to focus on getting the vote out. The union’s current mandate will expire at the end of the month, meaning strikes will have to pause at least until mid-November. 

“Renewing our mandate and keeping the pressure on is the way we will win this dispute, but the strike action due to go ahead next week stands as a reminder to all employers that if you behave egregiously, you will face further disruption,” said UCU general secretary, Jo Grady.

Many of the strikes still going ahead were partly motivated by the large wage deductions imposed on union members for taking part in the marking boycott.

Some universities including Aberdeen, Bristol, Bath, Stirling and Sussex have agreed deals that will see them repay some or all of these deductions in return for academics clearing the marking backlog by set deadlines.

At the University of Liverpool, Mark O’Brien, chair of the UCU branch, said they had offered to stand the action down in return for a similar offer on deductions, but the university had declined.

He said some members had lost between £5,000 and £6,000 as a result of deductions of 50 per cent of their wages over the period of the boycott, something he said was “grossly disproportionate” to the amount of work they refused to mark. 

A Liverpool spokesperson said: “We are in discussions with our branch about their request and have made an offer which we believe should enable strike action to be averted next week. We remain absolutely committed to playing our part in resolving this national dispute.”

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive said the suspension of strikes at the majority of institutions would be “welcomed” by staff and students.

“It is still disappointing that a number of UCU branches will attempt to carry out strike action,” he added.

He said Ucea’s priority was to work with the UCU and the other higher education unions on “a number of important pay-related matters including the review of the pay spine, workload, contract types and further action to reduce the already falling pay gaps in the sector”.

“A crucial element of resetting industrial relations in the sector is developing a shared understanding of affordability”, said Mr Jethwa. “For the sake of students and staff alike, it is now vital to work together to bring to an end the sector’s recent cycle of industrial disputes.”

Institutions where strike action will no longer take place:

Institutions where five days of strike action will go ahead:

Institutions where strike action will go ahead for at least one day:

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles