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22 February 2018, 06:32
A wave of strike action in a bitter row over pensions is getting under way at universities across Scotland.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are planning 14 days of action this month and in March, building towards a week-long walkout by staff.
The action, described as "very disappointing" by university bosses, is beginning on Thursday with union members effectively embarking on a five-day walkout, covering Thursday and Friday of this week and Monday-Wednesday of the following week.
The UCU said 10 institutions will ultimately be affected by the strikes, affecting more than 145,000 students in total.
Universities UK says it remains at the negotiating table and believes that around 16% of academic staff that are UCU members in the affected UK institutions voted in favour of strike action.
The dispute centres on proposals put forward by Universities UK for changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
Employers argue that the pension scheme is billions of pounds in deficit, while the union says the proposals would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
A recent ballot saw more than four-fifths of UCU members back strike action in a 63% turnout in Scotland.
The universities are among 64 UK institutions to be hit with 14 days of strikes over the next four weeks if the dispute is not resolved, the UCU has warned.
It is due to stage rallies in Glasgow and Dundee on Thursday.
Further strike action is also planned for Monday March 5 through to Thursday March 8, followed by a five-day walk out commencing on Monday March 12 and ending on Friday March 16.
The universities in Scotland that will be affected are: The University of Aberdeen, the University of Dundee, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Open University in Scotland, St Andrews University, the University of Stirling, the University of Strathclyde, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science at the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Due to academic timetabling, union members at the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling are not taking part in the action this week, but they will participate in all the other strike dates and are also set to walk out on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March.
UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: "Nobody wants to take strike action, but staff across Scotland feel they have no choice. These hardline proposals would slash staff pensions and are simply uncalled for.
"It is staggering that the universities have refused to engage with the union and a real insult to staff and to students."
The action has the support of Aamer Anwar, the rector of the University of Glasgow, who said: "I would urge every student to show their support for their lecturers, it would not only boost their morale but be a real show of solidarity."
Universities UK said the pension scheme has a deficit of more than £6 billion that cannot be ignored.
A spokesman said Universities UK has met UCU over 35 times in the last year to discuss reforms.
He said: "UUK remains at the negotiating table, but so far UCU has refused to engage on how best to address the funding challenges facing USS. It is important now that UCU engages on how best to ensure the long-term sustainability of the scheme."
He added that there are scheduled discussions with UCU on key issues with the USS.
The spokesman continued: "The changes proposed will make USS secure and sustainable, safeguarding the future of universities.
"University staff will still have a valuable pension scheme, with employer contributions of 18% of salary, double the private sector average. This makes strike action very disappointing."
A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "Universities Scotland is not a party in this dispute but recognises the need for universities to address the funding challenges facing USS.
"Universities' immediate priority will be to try to minimise disruption to students' education and to vital student services during that time."