Lectures next Thursday may be cancelled after members of the University and Colleges Union voted for a day of strike action in response to planned changes to pension schemes.
Over 900 staff at the University are members of the UCU, which said roughly three quarters of its members voted in favour of strike action. Southampton will join over 60 other universities across the country in a walkout predicted to affect more than a million students.
Members of the UCU say university staff could lose up to £355,000 from pensions if the proposals discussed by the Employers Pension Forum go ahead.
A University Spokesperson has commented: ‘there is still the chance that the strikes may not go ahead as the UCU may negotiate [with the Employers Pension Forum]nationally, and so there may not definitely be strikes at the University.
‘If there are, the way things are going, Deans of each faculty will send out e-mails to staff, asking whether or not they will strike. Not a huge number of UCU members at the University are academic staff, and of them, only an even smaller number may decide to strike.
‘Once each faulty is aware of how many staff will be striking, they will be looking at the impact on lectures and students. At the moment, we cannot yet assess that impact, but we can say that students who may be affected [by the strikes]will be informed by an e-mail from their faculties, not from their tutors.
‘The feeling from the University is that they will be disappointed if the strikes go ahead due to the potential impact on students.’
VP Media & Communications of Southampton University Students’ Union Charlotte Woods added, ‘Billy [Fitzjohn, Union President] and Rob [Stanning, VP Academic Affairs] have also this morning met with the Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice-Chancellor, so we now undertsand that the University does not know how many staff will take part in the strike. The University is not permitted to keep a list of those members of staff who are members of UCU and who may therefore be striking. Rob will be posting a blog later about the Strike and SUSU’s stance on the matter.’
UCU Spokeswoman for the University, Professor Caroline Pope told local newspaper The Daily Echo: ‘I hope people can understand why we need to put a line in the sand and say we can’t accept this. Members feel passionately about their duties to students as educators and researchers, and we don’t want to jeopardise their education. We don’t take this action lightly.
‘The pension scheme is well funded. The changes represent a huge attack on the benefits of our members and all university staff. This is a significant cut in the money that people expected to have in their retirement. We work very hard, putting in long hours and we have responded on higher student numbers and making our research relevant to the needs of industry – we’ve done everything we’ve been told we needed to do. We’re not saying we’re not prepared to make any changes.
‘We have alternative proposals that our members feel would be acceptable, like changing the pensionable age, but they’re making us carry all the cost. It’s creating a two-tier system, and there’s a lot of feeling that you shouldn’t operate a university like that. ‘
The Professor of Health Sciences continued, ‘I think the Vice Chancellor understands why our members are concerned about pensions. It looks like we’re angry at the management of Southampton University, but actually this is a nationally negotiated decision and we don’t agree with it.’
If the proposals from the Employers Pension Forum continue as planned – which include closing the final salary scheme to new members – then students studying PGCEs at the University could also be ultimately affected.
Southampton UCU have also expressed concern over the threat of redundancies at the University, publishing in their newsletter last Spring, ‘the pattern at Southampton suggests that there is a strategy of achieving cuts by stealth. Once again, it appears it will be staff that will bear the brunt of future spending reductions, either through redundancy, or being forced to bear increased workloads.’
The strike comes as the University finalises its consultation and strategic review of Student Services, as many staff have already expressed unofficial concern over the safety of jobs within the department.
The strike will be the first national one in higher education in five years.