UCU Strikes: What’s going on?

Million university students have lectures cancelled as lecturers strike over pension changes row

The UCU left their mark across Sheffield.

More than one million students have had lectures and seminars cancelled indefinitely as strikes begin across the country.

UCU – one of the largest higher education union in the world – are striking over proposed changes to their pension scheme.

The changes – proposed by Universities UK (UUK) – will see the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) changed from a definitive benefit system to one that invests in the stock market.

UUK say the changes are intended to help tackle to 6.1bn deficit faced by the USS.

University staff – who are represented by the UCU – claim the changes to their pension scheme could see some people lose up to 10,000 a year from their pension.

The strikes have affected over one million students during a time when many are expecting feedback on their January exams.

Students have been urged by the UCU to get involved and join their academics on the picket line. Some leaflets and posters are suggesting students should either join the picket line or ‘just stay in bed.

Students at the University of Sheffield have been advised to strike or stay in bed.

The strikes look likely to continue into the foreseeable future with more action threatened to take place during the exam season.

Case study

Student Heather Horvath describes how the UCU strikes have left her feeling like ‘collateral damage.’

“We’re being made to feel like collateral damage.”

I’m a second-year history student at the University of Sheffield. I first heard about the strikes last week during my seminar.

At first, I didn’t think the strikes would affect me but I soon realised that my tutor would be involved in the action.

It means I’ll miss lectures and seminars. I’ll still get my reading lists for the weeks ahead but the contact hours with my tutor are invaluable.

For some people it can be the difference between getting a 2:1 and a First – It’s really that important!

At first I was angry with the lecturers but now I’m beginning to understand their cause; I can emphasise with their situation.

Although – the duration is a bit ridiculous. Three weeks of strikes is a long time; I find it very difficult to reconcile that in my mind. We’re being made to feel like collateral damage.

I really hope the strikes don’t continue after that. We’ve heard that the UCU are threatening to strike for up to six months – and even cancel exams! I really hope that’s just a threat and not something that would happen.

If the exams are cancelled then I don’t know what I’d do – It’s not something you think about. All that hard work and studying would have been for absolutely nothing.

I hope that afterwards they can reschedule some of the lectures – this isn’t just about tuition fees and getting our money’s worth. I love studying history at this university and I hate missing out on the opportunity to learn.

Some lecturers have said they’ll merge some missed lectures and seminars together – I think this is a good idea.

If I had one message for the lecturers at my university it would be this: Please keep us up to date and don’t withhold information from us. Finally – please share the PowerPoint slides from your lectures; I understand you need to cause disruption to voice your concern but the students have already been unfairly punished enough.

Heather Horvath, 19, second-year History student at The University of Sheffield. 


The USS Pension Scheme is one of the largest private pension schemes for higher education institutions across the UK.

Any changes to the USS Pension Scheme are made by the JNC – this is the Joint National Committee and is made up of an equal number of members from the UCU and the UUK. The JNC is led by an independent chairperson who can cast a deciding vote on divisive matters, such as changes to the pension scheme.

The UUK’s proposal was for a modified pension scheme in which the employees pensions are invested in the USS Investment Builder.

Meanwhile, the UCU want to see an increased contribution from the employer. The employers currently contribute 18%.

That’s not going to go down too well with those who are unhappy with their education being used as a bargaining tool.

The UUK will meet with the UCU on Tuesday 27th February – but they’re not willing to reverse the decision made by the JNC – you’re almost left wondering what they’re actually going to talk about.


What do you think? Comment your opinion and get involved in the discussion…