Sunderland University lecturers to strike over pay and pensions fear

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LECTURERS and academics at Sunderland University are to strike over pay, pensions and job security.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will take part in national industrial action on Thursday, March 24, in objection to a 0.4 per cent pay increase and lack of agreement over job security.

There are more than 370 UCU members at Sunderland.

A further ballot on changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme saw lecturers vote for a second day of industrial action. The date for that is yet to be set.

Teaching and research staff at Durham University have already announced they will strike on Tuesday, March 22, over changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension arrangements, as well as joining colleagues at Sunderland and other institutions on March 24.

Steve Storey, chairman of Sunderland University’s UCU branch, said proposed changes to pensions would mean lecturers working longer, paying more and getting less.

“When I’ve talked to people about this, they’re more concerned about the pension than they are about the 0.4 per cent pay increase,” he said.

Mr Storey is one of many lecturers who once worked in industry and sacrificed higher private sector salaries knowing they would have more attractive pension arrangements in higher education.

“I joined the university in 1992 and my former colleagues from industry now earn about double my salary.

“A lot of people are in the same boat. The one thing that was more attractive was the pension scheme.

“The bigger part of the picture is the Teachers’ Pension Scheme also covers further education teachers and teachers in schools and they are yet to vote on industrial action.”

Mr Storey admitted the action would disrupt students’ education, but said lecturers and students had stood side-by-side in previous protests over tuition fees and public sector cuts.

“I think most students support us,” he said.

He added that Sunderland University would be amongst the hardest hit by cuts, while older, more prestigious institutions which took fewer students from state schools would not suffer.

“I don’t think things are going to change at Oxford and Cambridge,” he said. “Sunderland became a university in 1992 and every year we’ve been reaching out so people can come to university who traditionally haven’t.”

A spokesman for the University of Sunderland said: “The result of the national ballot is disappointing, especially as it comes at a time when the challenges facing the higher education sector are already considerable.

“We will, of course, do everything we can to minimise the disruption for our students. We are currently working on plans to maintain business as usual for our students should we be affected by strike action.”