Oxford University staff back nationwide strike in pensions dispute

Strike placards

Strike placards

Top universities could face strikes next month after staff backed action over changes to their pensions.

Sally Hunt, the UCU's general secretary, said that members had "made it quite clear they are prepared to take action to defend their pensions and the universities need to work with us to avoid widespread disruption".

With an average turnout of 58%, 88% of staff at 61 universities voted for strike action, while 93% voted for action short of a strike.

If no agreement is reached, strikes will occur in 61 higher education institutions across the United Kingdom, including the University of Cambridge.

It suggests the gulf between universities and the union may be too great to bridge at the final talks on Tuesday.

At present, the USS operates a hybrid scheme in which defined benefit pensions can be accumulated on salaries up to £55,550, with earnings above this threshold directed towards a defined contribution scheme, under which retirement incomes depend exclusively on returns from money invested in the stock market.

But this is beyond what universities are willing to pay and Frank Field, chairman of the work and pensions select committee, has written to ministers, The Pensions Regulator and the trustees of the scheme to understand why its deficit has increased £7.3bn in three years.

A UUK spokesperson said the ballot's result was "disappointing".

A Universities UK spokeswoman said a solution to "significant funding challenges" facing the scheme needed to be found. "UUK's priority is to put USS on a secure and sustainable footing while offering attractive, market-leading pensions - the very best that can be afforded by both employers and employees". To retain the status quo would only serve interests in the short term.

"The option of no reform is a risky gamble".

The result comes after 960 professors warned that UUK's proposal would lead to a recruitment "disaster" for universities.

"USS already offers worse benefits than other schemes available in universities, and UUK's proposals would make matters worse".

Writing to Alistair Jarvis, UUK's chief executive, Warwick's vice-chancellor Stuart Croft urges the organisation, which represents the university, to look at "less stark solutions".

Staff at the University of Suffolk are not expected to take part in industrial action, however, after a ballot had insufficient turnout to achieve a mandate.

The union announced that its members had overwhelmingly backed action over proposed changes to pensions covered by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

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