The union confirmed 18 days of action in February and March, where more than 70,000 members will walk out in a dispute over pay, conditions and pensions.
The UCU said it will be the biggest series of strikes ever to hit British university campuses if they go ahead.
It is calling for employers to improve on a pay offer worth 4-5% to avoid the disruption, but the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) has said the current offer is worth up to 7%.
In the pension dispute, the union is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made in 2022 will see the average member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their career, the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “There is a clear route out of these disputes, but at present vice-chancellors lack the political will to take it. They are failing staff who want to get back to work, and students who want to get on with their studies.
“Students understand that staff working conditions are their learning conditions and we are proud to have their support in these disputes. A system that relies on low pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts is a system which fails everyone.
“A resolution can be reached, but that is in the gift of university vice-chancellors who need to urgently reassess their priorities and deliver a deal that benefits staff and students.”
She added that the UCU will be re-balloting its 70,000 members “to allow action to continue through the rest of the academic year” if a resolution is not found.
‘Students stand in solidarity’
In a statement, the National Union of Students said “students stand in solidarity” with the strikers as “the conditions in which they work are the conditions in which we learn”, and said PhD students facing “particularly precarious working conditions” were among those taking action.
The statement added: “The upcoming 18 days of strikes by university staff across the UK will impact students’ education, and we are angry that students will miss out on learning as a result of employers’ ongoing refusal to meet UCU’s demands.
“It is high time for universities and employers to take meaningful action to address these issues. They have a responsibility to agree to UCU’s demands and ensure fair pay and benefits for all staff, including those who are impacted by ableist, gendered, and racialised pay gaps, and include protections for staff pensions. We all have the right to decent work and protections in our old age.”
Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the UCEA, said: “The sector is asking the trade unions to consult their members over this pay offer rather than push them into striking that tries to target students.
“Our member HE institutions are urging UCU leaders to provide their own members with a realistic and fair assessment of what is achievable, before giving them the chance to accept or refuse a pay offer.
“This is the highest HE pay offer made in nearly 20 years with employers committed to implementing a proportion of this award six months early as a direct response to current cost of living concerns.
“UCEA’s current offer is an uplift of up to 7%, with a minimum of 5% for anyone earning up to £51,000.
“We hope that our proposals will be recognised as a genuine attempt by employers to address cost of living pressures. Now UCU, its fellow trade unions and employers need to work together in negotiating, rather than simply preparing for strikes.”
When are university staff striking?
The full list of dates of University staff will stage strike action is as follows:
- Week one: Wednesday 1 February
- Week two: Thursday 9 February and Friday 10 February
- Week three: Tuesday 14 February, Wednesday 15 February and Thursday 16 February
- Week four: Tuesday 21 February, Wednesday 22 February and Thursday 23 February
- Week five: Monday 27 February, Tuesday 28 February, Wednesday 1 March and Thursday 2 March
- Week six: Thursday 16 March and Friday 17 March
- Week seven: Monday 20 March, Tuesday 21 March and Wednesday 22 March
No strike action is due to be taken on the week commencing 6 March.