Staff at the University of Kent have began 14 days of industrial action today, over changes to pension plans.
Members of the Universities and College Union (UCU) announced on January 22 that it would be participating in strikes spanning 14 days – over the space of two weeks – in frustration over employers’ plans to downgrade lecturer’s and staff’s future state pensions.
Academics at both Medway and Canterbury campuses began picketing at 8am this morning, with many lecturers participating in the strike being joined by students who stood alongside their teachers in solidarity over the changes.
The march across the Canterbury campus was led by Owen Lyne: a Senior Tutor at the school of Mathematics who also serves on both the School’s Education Committee as well as chair of the Staff Student Consultative Committee.
Listen to his keynote speech that he gave at the Registry this morning to protesters: https://soundcloud.com/bill-bowkett/owen-lynes-on-ucu-strikes
The University of Kent is one of around 64 UK universities participating in the walkout, with many students’ lectures and seminars cancelled or disrupted as a result.
The disputes made by teachers are over new proposals put forward by Universities UK (UUK) to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from a Defined Benefit Scheme to a Defined Contribution Scheme. The UCU claims that this change would leave lecturers £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
UUK say that the new scheme was a ‘necessary step’ to combat the USS’ deficit of more than £6 billion, and that there is a legal duty to put a credible plan in place by the summer to reduce the deficit.
88% of UCU members backed strike action, with 57% of Union members at Kent voting in favour of the motion.
The University will “withhold 100%” of all pay to those taking part in the walkouts, and they will “deduct 50%” of workers’ wages “for a single day” if they fail to reschedule any classes they cancel during the strikes.
A spokesperson for the University of Kent said that they “regret the outcome” of the recent University and College Union (UCU) ballot:
“This is a national dispute which involves a large number of education employers and centres on proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. As such, we are not free to resolve this dispute on our own or with our own staff and remain deeply frustrated by the apparent deadlock in discussions at the national level.
“We would also like to stress that we are committed to maintaining current levels of pension contributions. However, we understand that staff are concerned and we urge the national bodies to return to discussions in order to arrive at a sustainable, long term solution to this issue.
“At this stage we are not certain how many staff are participating in industrial action but we are working hard to mitigate, as far as is possible, any impact of the proposed industrial action on our students whilst maintaining high academic standards. The University will be open as usual during the action and many academic and support activities will continue to operate as normal.”
Other reports have come out from around the country of students signing petitions demanding financial compensation from universities for classes lost due to the strikes. However, in an interview for KTV, University Vice-Chancellor Karen Cox said that “there is no need for any financial compensation” for students at Kent when staff are trying their hardest to reschedule contact hours and “making sure that students are able to continue with their program.”
Union officials are meeting on March 2 to discuss the response from universities to the industrial action and how the union should respond next.
The UCU has a mandate to take industrial action up until July 19, three months longer than was originally planned, meaning final-year exams could be disrupted or potentially cancelled.
InQuire’s Website News Editor, Bill Bowkett, was on the scene earlier today reporting on the picketing taking place around the campus: https://www.facebook.com/InQuireMedia/videos/1547310685388241/