The National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) have issued a joint statement saying students stand “shoulder to shoulder” with staff in the ongoing disputes over pay and pensions.
The statement outlines the shared commitment of both organisations to defending education, and calls on students to organise solidarity action in support of UCU members fighting attacks on pay and pensions.
The statement also asks students to contact their institution to raise concerns about the impact potential disruption may have on their studies, and put pressure on university employers to address the concerns of staff.
UCU has pledged to work closely with NUS to explain to students why the current ballots are taking place and commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve the disputes.
Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action when UCU members lost 14 days' pay to defend their pensions. The union is also calling for action on pay, gender pay, casualised contracts and unsustainable workloads.
Sixty-nine institutions are being balloted in the row over Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions, while 147 institutions are being balloted at the same time as part of a dispute over pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. Ballots opened on Monday 9 September and will close on Wednesday 30 October. The union’s higher education committee will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘UCU and NUS have a shared commitment to defending education and we are proud of our joint work in striving for a better deal for staff and students. Staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions which is why it’s vital that we stand up against attacks on pay, pensions, workload and job insecurity. We welcome the support of NUS as we fight for the future of our universities.’
NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim said: ‘Staff are the cornerstone of higher education and should be properly rewarded. NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with UCU in the fight for fair pay and pensions, and decent working conditions.’
NUS and UCU are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff, and in challenging the marketisation of education. We want to create an education system that is funded, accessible and lifelong, a system that reflects the needs of modern society.
We believe that staff are the cornerstone of the higher education experience and should be fairly rewarded. We further believe that ignoring important recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP)* and sticking with a discredited valuation methodology for the USS pension will be hugely damaging for students and staff.
As the representative of students, many of whom are also working in the sector and are members of UCU, NUS is worried that rising pension contributions alongside falling benefits and pay, increased casualisation and work overload will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere.
As the representative of staff, UCU is concerned that the sector’s failure to commit to fair rates of pay, tackle the gender and race pay gaps, deal with rising workloads or reduce casualisation has led to an increasingly stressful environment for staff.
We believe that the failure to address ever higher salaries for vice-chancellors and principals, while attacking pensions, sends a hugely damaging message to both students and staff.
NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with UCU and asks its members to:
• call for higher education employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation, agree to reopen negotiations on casualisation, workload and pay inequality and put pressure on USS to implement all of the recommendations of the JEP
• write to their institution head to raise concerns about the impact such disputes will have on their learning
• participate in local demonstrative solidarity action, both during the disputes and the likely strikes, in support of UCU members
In response, UCU agrees to:
• work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place and to update students as matters progress
• commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve the disputes
• continue to support NUS in the wider struggle for a fair and just education system.
*The JEP was set up jointly by UCU and UUK as part of the settlement of the 2018 dispute. The JEP is a panel of independent experts ask to look at the valuation and governance of the USS scheme and make recommendations to the stakeholders. Its first report came out in September 2018.