Higher Education Strikes Update

Higher education strikes update

Over the past few weeks I have warned employers not to underestimate UCU members by assuming we are reluctant to escalate our disputes.

If the pickets I’ve visited at SOAS in London and the other picket lines and rallies I’ve seen photos of today are anything to go by, I was right.

Despite some terrible weather across the UK there has been so much commitment and enthusiasm, with some branches reporting more members than ever turning out in support of the strikes. You can take a look at some photos and videos from the physical and digital picket lines on our ‘wall of action’.

We have had messages of solidarity from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and from the NUS. I have also recorded a short video with the NUS vice president (higher education) to explain to students why we need and value their support.

I have spoken to Sky News, LBC, ITV News and the BBC to explain why these disputes matter. Listen to my interview on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning here.

Our employers have never spent less of their money on you than they do currently. All we are asking is for an end to a ten-year trend of declining investment in staff. If you take every day of action like this one, I believe we can make that happen.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Day 2 strike action round up (Fri 21 Feb 2020)

There were busy picket lines across our region and right across the country today.  See https://www.ucu.org.uk/heaction-live for nationwide news and media coverage

Closer to home, the UCU branch at UEA are about to demo outside tonight’s BCC Any Questions programme. One of the original organisers, Martin Scott, and Nadia Whittome MP who was due to be a guest on the show, have both said on Twitter that they will not attend because they will not cross a picket line.

Today’s photo summary to give you a flavour of the action: (lots more on our Twitter and Facebook feeds @UCUEssex)


Old Schools student blockade 21 Feb 2020




Day 1 picket line photos

Day 1 of strike action in HE dispute…and great picket line photos coming in. Many more photos on our facebook and twitter feeds

Facebook @UCUEHCRegion  https://www.facebook.com/UCUEHCRegion/

Twitter @UCUEHCRegion             https://twitter.com/UCUEHCRegion

Instagram @easternucu               https://www.instagram.com/easternucu/

Cambridge 20 Feb 2020

OU 20th Walton Hall

OU Belfast 20th

UEA Cow Drive


Links to strike FAQs, Jo Grady’s updates, briefings (posted 13 Feb 2020)

Strike information for the impending action 20 Feb to 13 March 2020 to share with members:

UCU announces 14 strike days at 74 universities in February and March

3 February 2020

Seventy-four UK universities* will be hit with 14 days of strike action in February and March, UCU announced today. The action will start on Thursday 20 February and escalate each week, culminating with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March.

The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. The full strike dates are:

  • Week one – Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February
  • Week two – Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February
  • Week three – Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March
  • Week four – Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March

UCU members at 60 universities walked out for eight days in November and December last year in action that affected around one million students. This next wave of strikes will affect another 14 universities and an additional 200,000 students, as more UCU branches crossed a 50% turnout threshold required by law for them to take industrial action.

The union also warned it would ballot members after this wave of strikes if the disputes could not be resolved, to ensure branches could take action until the end of the academic year. Strike mandates are only legally valid for six months, so branches who walked out in November would need to secure a fresh mandate to be able to continue to take action after April.

As well as the strike days, union members are undertaking “action short of a strike”. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students. If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.

‘We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed. As well as the strikes next month, we are going to ballot members to ensure that we have a fresh mandate for further action to cover the rest of the academic year if these disputes are not resolved.’

Ballot results mean 74 universities could now be hit with industrial action

The number of UK universities that could be hit with strike action this term now stands at 74 following a series of reballots in disputes over pensions, and over pay and conditions. UCU members at 60 universities walked out for eight days between Monday 25 November and Wednesday 4 December. Staff at another 14 universities can now join them in further action after UCU members at those institutions backed industrial action and, crucially, passed the punitive 50% legal turnout threshold.

Overall, 80% of members backed strikes over pensions, while 76% voted for strike action over pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. The union’s higher education committee met on Thursday to consider the results, listen to updates and discuss next steps in the two disputes. Further details on what the committee decided are expected imminently.

The Guardian said the results would be a significant boost to the union, particularly as the 14 institutions included influential players such as King’s College London and Imperial College London.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the union and its members “have been clear from the outset that we are prepared to take serious and sustained action to defend pay and conditions, as well as our pensions, and these latest ballot results show that members are just as determined as ever’.