69 UK universities’ boycott over pensions to affect students
A marking boycott is to be imposed on as many as 69 UK universities in coming weeks, according to the University and Colleges Union (UCU).
The boycott is due to start on the 6th November and comes amid disputes regarding the reform of academic pensions. The action will halt autumn exams and prevent students from receiving feedback or formal marks on coursework and is a response to proposals to alter the current Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
The scheme supports the pensions of academics and academic-related staff in many UK universities and has been under scrutiny since last ten months. A perceived drawback of USS was that it did not link to final pay, which is one major element facing reform and higher education advocacy organisation Universities UK (UUK) aims to tackle the program’s shortfall.
However, UCU’s general secretary Sally Hunt is unconvinced of the need for what she termed as “dramatic changes” and attacked UUK’s proposals for being “full of holes”.
Hunt said: “The proposed reform shifts the risk to scheme members and would rely on successful investments. We hope the employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations aimed at resolving the enormous gap between our two positions.”
On the contrary, UUK has highlighted the huge impact that the move could have on students themselves, including those studying at Russell Group member universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff and Manchester.
A spokesman for UUK expressed disappointment at such a “damaging course of industrial action, aimed directly at disrupting students’ education.”
UUK claims that the boycott wouldn’t serve to combat “the substantial scheme deficit or the risks to the future viability of the scheme.”
In response to the backlash against the reform, the spokesman remarked: “The employers’ proposals for reform offer the best possible deal for employees within the constraints the USS trustees have set. The scheme has to meet certain minimum levels of funding, a test which it currently fails, to the tune of at least £8bn. It is unavoidable that a recovery plan has to be agreed that would remove the deficit over a reasonable period.”
The spokesman also highlighted the consequences for those studying, stating that universities “take the risk of disruption to students arising from any potential industrial action very seriously and would take all reasonable steps to mitigate impact on students.”
Thomas Rhys Jones
Photo: Aastha Gill