Staff at 15 Scottish universities are to walk out as the sector’s longest-running strike action in the UK gets under way.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are taking to the picket line over 14 days amid two rows – one concerning pensions and another over pay and working conditions – starting from Thursday.
Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) University Lecturers’ Association (EIS-ULA) members are also walking out over five days in a pay dispute.
UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: “This unprecedented level of action shows just how angry staff are at their universities’ refusal to negotiate properly with us.”
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “This dispute has been caused by the fact that the pay of university lecturers has been cut, in real terms, by at least 20% over the past decade, whilst, at the same time, the pay bill for university principals has soared.
“It is time for management to come back to the table with a fair offer for lecturers.”
Across the UK, 74 universities will be affected by the UCU strikes, the most since a nationwide two-day strike in 2016, while the number of strike days is unprecedented.
They will largely take place between this Thursday and Friday, Monday and Wednesday next week as well as on March 2, 5, 9 and 13.
Five Scottish universities will have separate timetables due to fitting the walkouts around issues such as reading weeks.
Those taking part in both UCU disputes are Heriot-Watt University; the Open University in Scotland; University of Dundee; University of Stirling; University of Edinburgh; University of Glasgow; University of St Andrews; University of Strathclyde, and University of Aberdeen.
Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University are involved in the pay and conditions row, while the Scottish Association for Marine Science is taking part in the pension-related action.
The pensions row relates to changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
It is the second wave of strikes in the disputes after UCU members took part in eight days of action before Christmas.
Edinburgh Napier University, University of Aberdeen, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow School of Art and University of the West of Scotland are all taking part in the EIS-ULA walkouts.
The first four institutions will take action on Thursday, followed by Tuesday next week, March 2, 12 and 13.
The University of West of Scotland will follow a similar timetable, although it will walk out on March 11 rather than 13.
Alistair Fitt, who sits on the universities’ Employers Pensions Forum, said: “It is disappointing to be here again, with the second walkout in three months.
“While we respect the right of union members to choose to take strike action and know that our academic colleagues would not have done so lightly, the situation is unsettling and difficult for students, and we honestly think it could have been avoided.”
He said the forum has been exploring all options to avoid the “damaging” strike action, adding: “The USS remains amongst the very best private pension schemes in the country and is comparable to Government-backed public-sector schemes.”
A spokesman for Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), representing the universities in the pay dispute, said: “Universities are deeply disappointed to see UCU trying to press ahead with their HE Committee’s plans for extensive strike action.
“UCEA has offered UCU further informal talks and urges the union’s leaders to reconsider pursuing damaging strike action at less than half of universities, damaging students, staff and their own members – who are yet to be consulted over the new positive proposals that are on the table.
“These proposals address the important issues around employment in universities, focusing on casual employment, workload/mental health and gender pay gaps/ethnicity pay.”