The university pension strike will only end when we’re listened to

Strikes by university staff have rightly caught the imagination of people around the country. The rock-solid action taken by members of the University and College Union, and the incredible support they have received from their students, has lit up our campuses. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union writes in The Guardian.

To see this as just a normal strike is wrong. Pensions are deferred pay. In the case of universities, many staff could earn much more in the private sector but instead choose to work for the public good. Decent pensions have helped to offset the relatively low pay and have been a powerful recruitment and retention tool for institutions seeking to attract staff from around the globe.

Politicians, students and parents are rightly worried and have made it clear in recent days that they think UUK needs to start listening. The pressure they have helped apply on UUK has got us to talks at Acas on Monday.

We start talks as staff walk out for a further four days of strikes with a full week planned after that. UCU wants to resolve the dispute and that is why we have tabled a 10-point plan which would retain a decent, guaranteed pension for staff, deal with the long-term issues facing the fund and be affordable for universities. We are prepared to stay at Acas day and night to resolve the dispute this week. That is the least that we owe to our students.

Time to resolve this dispute is running out. While we will do everything in our power to achieve a settlement this week, if there is no solution acceptable to UCU members my personal recommendation to the union’s governing body will be to call for a further round of industrial action. Inevitably, this will hit exams, assessment and, of course, teaching for many students.

We do not want to take that action. For six months we have tried to resolve the dispute, talking to individual vice-chancellors and trying to persuade negotiators on the other side to take UCU members’ views seriously. So when I say that a failure to resolve the issues this week will see the dispute escalate, I hope my message is taken seriously.

While it should never have come to this, I do welcome these key interventions and hope they translate into meaningful negotiations. But whatever happens – the sector has important lessons to learn from the dispute. Just as with the public criticism of vice-chancellors’ pay, too often the response to genuine staff concerns has been tone deaf. The impression has been left of a group of leaders talking to themselves and disinterested in hearing a contrary view. Vice-chancellors are a much-maligned group, sometimes with good reason. But I know that many do care deeply about their universities and the people within them – how sad that exactly the opposite impression has been allowed to take root thanks to one wrong move after another.

Read the full article The university pension strike will only end when we’re listened to

Are you affected by the strikes? Tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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