The protracted industrial dispute over cuts in pensions and working conditions at UK universities seems to be faltering after union branches gave up a national strike that is set to begin this week, which could delay student graduation.
Last month, 41 branches of the Union of Universities and Colleges (UCU) supported a boycott of the national assessment and evaluation, supported by 86% of staff who returned ballots. But only 20 universities are continuing the boycott after opposition from affiliates and members has led to national action being curtailed by union executive power in favor of allowing individual campuses to decide.
The universities of Edinburgh and Durham were among those who refused to boycott last week, and the Durham branch of UCU was negotiating a local agreement. The agreement included the payment of up to £ 1,000 for each employee and joint statements and commitments on workload and pensions.
The national downturn shows that enthusiasm for industrial action among members is waning, including the pension dispute, which has been has been operating since 2018. Branches have already held up to 18 days of strike this school year due to reduced pensions and working conditions.
UCU message to members on Friday outlined disagreements over how to proceed, including a stalemate in the union’s higher education committee. It said “overwhelming feedback from affiliates” meant that plans for further 10-day strikes later this year would also be left by separate branches.
The threat of a boycott of the label provoked an aggressive reaction from some university leaders, with Queen Mary University of London said to be planning to hire outside staff from the Australian Council for Higher Education.
Managers at the universities of Leeds, Dundee and Sheffield told staff that they face a 100% suspension of their salaries if they take part in a boycott that will include waiving end-of-year exams and dissertations.
Raj Jetwa, executive director of the Association of Employers of Universities and Colleges, said: “Higher education institutions are obliged to protect their students, and they are entitled by law to fully withhold payment for this boycott.”
The controversy has been overshadowed in recent days as universities have begun announcing staff cuts and restructuring over fears they are facing financial pressure and trying to attract students.
Roehampton University officials said they plan to make 64 full-time positions redundant as part of a “strategic restructuring” that will cut back on humanities courses such as philosophy and creative writing, due to rising costs and falling incomes.
The University of Wolverhampton has said it will stop recruiting students for more than 100 courses, including fine arts and clothing design. At a meeting with staff last week, the vice-chancellor of Wolverhampton accused of reducing the university’s budget deficit by £ 20 million and reducing the number of undergraduate applications by 10%.
Joe Grady, UCU Secretary General, told members: “It’s not about financial needs. We are talking about the consequences of marketing. We are talking about the capricious distribution of research funding and unregulated enrollment of students.
The sector faced an additional blow last week when it became clear that UK universities would remain frozen in Horizon Europe’s research funding network with its budget of almost £ 100 billion. The European Union has postponed the permission of British universities to access the network due to a dispute between the British government over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which led to the fact that British scientists had to resign from senior positions.