Imperial College’s student body has voted overwhelmingly to support the University and College Union (UCU) strike over changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension policy.
73.4% of students who voted were in favour of the strike action, which will involve Imperial College employees (who are also members of UCU) not carrying out their roles within the College from Wednesday 1st to Friday 3rd December.
The total votes cast reached 2502, 105 votes over the 10% threshold of 2397 needed for votes to reach quorum. 1791 voted in favour of supporting the strike, 648 against and 63 abstained from voting.
Imperial College is one of only four universities in the UK striking solely over changes to the USS pension scheme, having not conducted a ballot on the issue of pay and working conditions. This is because Imperial College takes part in ‘local bargaining’ rather than ‘national bargaining’, meaning staff representatives negotiate pay with the College alone, rather than as a national effort. Due to this structure, Imperial College are not eligible to take part in a national strike over the issue.
The referendum comes after a vote within the UCU on November 4th resulted in a majority of Imperial College UCU members voting in favour of strike action of changes to the USS pension scheme. 71.7% of voters voted in favour of strike action, with 86.3% voting in favour of action short of a strike. The turnout for both ballots was 55.9% of eligible voters, coming in above the necessary 50% to reach quorum.
748 members of staff at Imperial are members of the UCU and were eligible to vote, equating to around 8.8% of the College’s 8500 total staff.
The strike is over changes to the USS pension scheme that lead to cuts in guaranteed retirement benefit for recipients. The size of this cut is disputed by the UCU and Universities UK (UUK), which represents universities in this conflict. UUK have stated that the cuts will result in a loss of 10% in pension value upon retirement, whereas UCU have produced figures of 35% and 41% cuts. These figures were calculated by a third party company.
A number of other student unions across the country, including the NUS, have also come out in support of the strikes.
Provost Ian Wamsley sent communications to all staff and students explaining that those taking part in the strike will not be paid for the days they strike. The money saved by the College from withholding pay will be used “to support activities that benefit education and/or student experience during 2021-22”, according to Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience) Emma McCoy.
Some critics say that a strike only damages students, at a time where we emerge from many months of teaching damaged by remote learning. Others note that whilst lecturing duties typically cease, work on personal projects and research rarely takes a hit during strike periods.
UUK claim they have tried to reach a settlement but the UCU’s negotiators have sabotaged chances of a deal being struck. UUK described the negotiators as “members of the influential UCU Left faction” and that they’re affiliated with the Socialist Workers party. They added “With such divisions in UCU’s decision-making bodies, it is difficult to see how a negotiated settlement over USS could ever be possible”.