Only 46.3% of LSE staff voted to go on strike on the 16th February. The LSE will therefore not be participating in the University and College Union (UCU) strikes that academics and staff at 61 universities nationwide including Oxford, Cambridge and Kings will be taking part in this month.
UCU asked its members to go on strike as negotiations around cuts of uni staff pensions with Universities UK (UUK) failed. The national vote saw 88% of UCU members vote for industrial action in a record turnout of 58% for UCU. Six other universities were re-balloted.
There were two votes amongst LSE staff members to decide whether they should strike: both were inconclusive. Both times, fewer than 50% of staff participated in the vote. 46.1% of LSE staff voted on the 18th of January, and only 0.2% more voted on Friday 16th February.
Of the voters, approximately 90% were in favour of striking. However, industrial action requires 50% of those eligible to vote; therefore the votes were inconclusive.
The reasons for the strikes are because of the proposed alterations to staff pensions as a deficit-reducing measure. The UK government proposed that “defined benefit” schemes be replaced by “defined contribution” schemes. The first provides a guaranteed income upon retirement, whereas the value of the latter depend on returns from underlying investments in the stock market.
The UCU is the organising body for industrial action in the tertiary education sector, having initially warned of possible strike action in November when pension changes were proposed by Universities UK. The UCU claims that defined contribution schemes are riskier and less generous, citing analysis by actuarial consultants First Actuarial that staff could be as much as £200,000 worse off than under defined benefit schemes. Michael Otsuka, an LSE Philosophy professor and pensions representative at UCU, found that UCU members will only receive 50 to 75 per cent of their current benefits.
This is not the first compromise academics have been asked to make on their pension schemes. The government has succeeded in implementing pension cuts over the past 7 years.
The newly proposed pension schemes will impact students too. According to the UCU, depreciation of pensions could draw potential academics away from LSE and other UK universities. It could also provide incentives for academics already established in UK universities to chose to teach abroad. Nonetheless, the very low turnout in LSE ballots seems to suggest LSE academics either support the new pension system or do not feel strongly about them.
Some students across UK universities who are affected by striking have asked for their tuition fees to be refunded if lecturers do not attend their lectures, via an online petition.
Robert Liow, a KCL law student, began the ‘Refund Our Fees’ campaign in response to strikes. “This campaign stands in solidarity with striking lecturers and academics. The core demand of this campaign is that universities give us a refund of our fees for each day that academics are striking. Education should be a public good, but if universities insist on making us pay we will insist on our money back,” he says,
Other student organisations are supporting the UCU strikes through rallies and demonstrations such as attending picket line demonstration at the University of London Senate house on the 22nd of February.
Students surveyed by market research firm Trendence UK had split opinions on the strikes, with 38.4% in favour and 38.4% against. The remainder were undecided. 51.8% said they would support faculty staff striking, while 29.3% said they would not.
Only 5% would blame the union for the strikes, with most blaming the government, their university or its vice-chancellor.