No end in sight for university strike after talks collapse

A university lecture theatre (stock image)

Despite hopes yesterday that striking University of Kent academics would end their industrial action, union members have not come to an agreement in their pensions dispute.

It means continued disruption for thousands of Kent students who face strikes throughout the May and June exam periods.

The University and College Union (UCU) has also warned bosses that under the terms of the strike lecturers would refuse to reschedule missed lectures or classes.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, is dismayed that a deal the union struck with employers, represented by the organisation Universities UK, was dismissed by members.

She said: “Now, after our national meeting with branches, there is little doubt that the majority of our members wish to reject the proposals as insufficient.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

Striking lecturers at Kent have claimed that changes to their defined pension benefit scheme would leave them £10,000 worse off.

Ms Hunt added that she wants fresh talks with university representatives to be held swiftly to try to find a way to resolve the dispute.

Strikes are now in their fourth week.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah, who visited Canterbury Christ Church University last week, has urged students to seek a rebate from the universities for their tuition fees.

The University of Kent is one of 65 institutions facing industrial action. Hopes surfaced yesterday (Tuesday) that a compromise was in sight.

Education writer Rosemary Bennett believes there is still much to do to bring the sides together.

She said: “Lecturers made clear yesterday they were not happy that the big questions had been kicked into the long grass.

“These include whether the defined benefit structure, which pays out a proportion of members’ salaries in their retirement, will be kept in the long term, how the value of the vast pension fund should be determined and what level of risk universities are willing to take on.

“Defined benefit schemes are risky because financial market investments may not be enough to cover the settled proportion of salary it agrees to pay out until the end of life.

“Students will be a crucial factor. The success of the UCU lecturers’ strike is in part thanks to their support.

“At almost all the 65 universities affected, students have joined tutors on the picket lines and made clear that they support their battle to protect their pensions. With strikes going into the exam season, it will test the support.”


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