A ballot of around 68,000 University and College Union (UCU) members at 140 UK higher education providers saw just 42.59 per cent turn out to vote, meaning that under the terms of the 2016 Trade Unions Act there can be no national industrial action.
Some 68 per cent of members who did vote backed strike action; 75 per cent were in favour of other forms of industrial action. UCU had secured mandates for action on pay and conditions at the previous two times of asking, in autumn 2022 and spring 2023. There was no ballot for action on pensions on this occasion.
In Northern Ireland, where no rules on turnout apply, 78 per cent backed industrial action short of a strike while 59 per cent backed strike action
UCU general secretary Jo Grady claimed that the results show that “staff are still angry with vice-chancellors who have failed to deliver on pay, job security and workload.” The chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), Raj Jethwa urged UCU, along with other sector trade unions, to “prioritise the independent review of sector finances”, which he hopes will end the cycle of claim and counter-claim about the financial status of higher education providers.
Though Grady is keen to note the success of the parallel campaign to reinstate the previous levels of USS pension contributions, the results of this ballot come at a difficult time for her as she seeks re-election. She has faced criticism from members for not calling the vote during the summer so that it would be possible to have a continuous mandate, for confusion over planned strike action in late September, and for a union decision to call off the marking and assessment boycott (MAB) at the end of the summer.
Staff subject to the New JNCHES pay spine saw a pay rise of between 5 and 8 per cent last year – lower than the union ask of inflation plus two per cent but higher than the initial offer. Work was agreed at ACAS between UCEA and the five sector trade unions to tackle a review of the current pay spine, and action on workload, contract types, and pay gaps – it is not clear when this is set to resume.