University staff set for second day of strikes

Students joined workers on Thursday in the first day of a wave of action that will continue in the coming weeks if there is no resolution

The first in a series of strikes by university workers has been held across Scotland in a bitter row over pensions.

Protesters stormed a lecture theatre and demanded students walk out in solidarity with university lecturers on the first day of strikes against changes to pensions.

Employers argue the pension scheme is £6 billion in deficit, while the union says the proposals would leave a typical lecturer nearly £10,000 a year worse off in retirement. However, in last week's debate at Union Council over whether to support the strikes, Abhijay Sood, Academics Affair Officer for the Royal College of Science Union (RCSU) said impact on examinations should be negligible, since invigilators were not members of UCU. After speeches encouraging students not to attend lectures or classes on strike days and to donate to the UCU strike fund to support staff in hardship, the crowd moved along Silver St to occupy the Senate House Lawn, where they had an impromptu picnic lunch.

NUS-USI president Olivia Potter-Hughes said it was important that a strong message was sent out against any employers who might consider reducing the terms or conditions of staff.

"The University made a surplus of £33 million past year, so it's not a question of not being able to afford it", added another student. The UCU puts the figure at as much as £10,000 a year.

Concerns have also been raised that non-EU global students, who pay much higher fees than European Union and United Kingdom students, are shouldering an unfair financial burden as a result of the strike.

Speaking to Varsity, an anonymous global student expressed her frustration over both the conditions that forced staff to strike and its financial cost: "As an worldwide student paying extortionate fees, I find it disgusting that the staff have been driven to this necessity, and if possible will be contacting the university for reimbursement".

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The UCU said more than 145,000 students will be affected by the strikes, with ten institutions ultimately taking part. In addition to their tuition fees, worldwide students must also pay annual College fees of between £6,850 and £12,700, which cover domestic, educational and pastoral support.

Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers' union, said: "Whatever happens with this dispute, it is time for a proper look at what is happening with USS".

"We would like to appeal to you to take the opportunity to put forward any proposals you feel may not have been sufficiently considered", the letter says.

Universities UK, which is behind the proposed pension changes, said they would tackle the scheme's deficit and mean universities can continue to offer "attractive" pensions to staff. "I don't think the lecturers will be able to make up for the time that has been missed".

A UUK spokesman said: "UUK remains at the negotiating table, but so far UCU has refused to engage on how best to address the funding challenges facing USS".

They continued: "This industrial action is targeted at students. Employers are committed to continuing to pay in 18% to staff pensions for the next five years, double the private sector average". It will be young people and the next generation of students who will also suffer if their education deteriorates because employers are forced to make cuts to pay more into pensions.

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